By Roli Srivastava
MUMBAI, April 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sex workers in Mumbai's red light district are being lured and even forced to sell their babies, campaigners say, sparking fears that traffickers are looking for new ways to buy children in response to tighter adoption rules.
The anti-trafficking charity Prerana - which runs a night shelter for the children of sex workers - has recorded four baby sales in the last seven months and is documenting each incident to see if a pattern emerges.
"Such cases were rare earlier. Pregnancies were controlled by brothel keepers - the madams - who allowed sex workers to keep their pregnancies in most cases, hoping for a girl child," said Pravin Patkar, co-founder of Prerana.
Babies were kept away from the mother, though were not sold.
"But pimps have emerged as more powerful now and act as mediators for buyers. There is an underground network looking for areas where there are unprotected children."
Campaigners say the long waiting list for adoption is at the heart of baby trafficking rackets being reported in the country.
But the focus on red light areas is new. Traffickers had previously mostly targeted poor, unmarried mothers or stolen babies from hospitals with inside help, campaigners said.
"This was my first case of a baby being sold in (the red light district of) Kamathipura," said police sub inspector Vasant Jadhav, who rescued a seven-day-old baby last October.
"The deal had been finalised even before the child's delivery and the buyer was a childless woman."
Police arrested both women and put the child into a state-run shelter. Nobody bailed out the sex worker, but the buyer got bail soon after her arrest, Jadhav said.
"The court will now decide the sex worker's fate."
In January, the police rescued a year-old baby who was being sold for 20,000 Indian rupees ($309.81).
A month later, Prerana officials kept a sex worker's child in their shelter after discovering that discussions were underway in her brothel to sell the baby. In the process, the officials said they found another baby facing a similar risk.
The Indian government has made adoption rules stricter, a move that has streamlined the adoption process, but made the wait for a child longer.
Last December, Mumbai police arrested six people for selling babies to childless couples for 200,000 to 400,000 rupees ($3,000-6,000).
The case in Mumbai surfaced within a month of a major trafficking bust in the eastern state of West Bengal.
($1 = 64.5550 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. 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)