MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mumbai police have arrested a gang of six people accused of stealing babies or convincing single women to sell their children in the latest bust in a series of baby trafficking rackets.
A police spokesman said the group, which included five women, sold the infants to childless couples in various states across India.
The arrests followed the rescue of five children – four boys and one girl – aged between four months and one year in the states of Goa, Gujarat and Karnataka, and came less than a month after a similar trafficking racket was busted in West Bengal.
Officers are now investigating if the couples that purchased the babies, for between 200,000 to 400,000 rupees ($3,000-6,000), were aware that the children had been kidnapped or bought from their biological parents.
"The gang was operating for the last two to three years. We are still investigating the number of children they may have kidnapped and sold," senior police inspector Naresh Kasale told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We suspect more people are involved in the racket."
The police spokesman said one child has been reunited with its biological parent but the others were at a rescue home.
Local media reported that police were looking into whether the group was linked to cases of kidnapping in hospitals.
Kasale said police first uncovered the racket in early December while investigating the case of a missing child in Sathe Nagar slum in Mankhurd, eastern Mumbai.
They found a woman from that slum was also missing and tracked her by her mobile phone to Goa where she was detained.
She told police she had sold the child and gave them details of the racket.
"She had told the couple that it was her own child and that her husband was dead and she wanted to remarry. We rescued the child and have reunited him with his parents," Kasale said.
Last month, 13 babies were rescued and the remains of two other infants discovered in a series of raids in West Bengal in what police suspect is an international child trafficking racket.
Eighteen people, including doctors, midwives and the owners of charities and clinics, were arrested, suspected of taking babies from women immediately after they had given birth and telling them their children were stillborn.
Adoption experts said that two gangs busted in quick succession is indicative that baby trafficking is becoming a widespread and organised crime in India.
"This is an alarming trend," said Sunil Arora, president of Federation of Adoptive Agencies.
Arora said there are laws in place for women to give up their children if they are unable to keep them but single mothers are often unaware of these processes and, fearing social stigma, may hand over children to trafficking gangs.
Reports of human trafficking in India increased by 25 percent in 2015 to about 6,877 compared to the previous year. More than 40 percent of cases involved children being bought, sold and exploited as slaves, according to government data.
($1=68.0181 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Roli Srivastava, Editing by Ed Upright.; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)