By Roli Srivastava
MUMBAI, March 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police in India charged six people on Tuesday with selling babies to childless couples after smashing a trafficking scam in the commercial capital Mumbai.
But officers said they were still trying to trace the biological parents of three of the five babies they had rescued when they bust the gang last December.
The childless couples had paid 200,000 to 400,000 rupees ($3,000-6,000) for the babies - a price experts said reflected the long waiting list for adoption in India.
"We will (only) know if these babies were kidnapped or given away willingly after we find the parents," Shahji Umap, a deputy commissioner of police in Mumbai, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The police have not been able to find the parents so far. Now the court will decide what to do with the babies."
Police said members of the gang, who face charges of trafficking and kidnapping, would convince single mothers - who can suffer social stigma in India - to give up their babies.
The accused - a 27-year-old man and five women aged 20 to 50 years - operated in the western and southern states of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, police said.
Only one of the five rescued babies has been reunited with its biological parents. High court judges allowed another to be returned to the family accused of buying it.
The three unclaimed babies, all aged under one year, are being cared for by an adoption agency, but they cannot be given up for adoption until their parents are located or it is established they cannot be traced.
Welfare officials, worried about the uncertain process, said on Tuesday they would seek the court's approval to put them up for adoption.
"This is the first time we have a case like this and we are at a loss as to how to go about it," said Sharda Talreja, who heads the child welfare committee in Mumbai.
Experts fear baby trafficking is becoming a widespread and organised crime in India.
The arrests in Mumbai came weeks after police uncovered a suspected international child trafficking racket in West Bengal.
Some 13 babies were rescued and the remains of two infants were discovered in raids in the eastern state last November.
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.
(Reporting by Roli Srivastava; Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)