Babies for sale in Portugal

news: Babies for sale in Portugal

Police in Coimbra foiled a plan to sell an unborn Bulgarian baby to a Portuguese couple recently – and experts believe the case to be one of many. The investigation by the Coimbra Judicial Police lasted three months and followed suspicions raised by doctors at a hospital in the Beira Alta.

Childcare professionals claim that the case highlights the fact that the sale of newly born babies for adoption has never truly disappeared from Portugal – and that it is something that does not constitute a specific crime here. Current legislation only prohibits the sale of children for sexual exploitation. Baby sales are allegedly on the increase because of a lack of infants being put up for adoption. Last year, 730 babies were rejected by their parents in Portugal, an average of two per day. But there are 2,000 couples currently waiting to adopt throughout the country and, last year, only 346 children were officially adopted.

There are some maternity units, where mothers sometimes arrange to hand over the children. The exchange of food and money – or simply hearing guarantees of a better life for their child – are enough to make some mothers hand over their babies.

Strange visitors

Marian Pacheco, who has worked as a social assistant nurse at the São Marcos hospital in Braga for only one year, has already become familiar with attempted ‘transactions’ of this nature. Pacheco cites the case of the mother with seven children, who makes her living through prostitution. She gave birth in the obstetrics ward and then, only hours later, demanded that a senior doctor discharge her. She was told that she had to stay for a minimum of three days, but refused, staying only one night, during which she received a visit from a very well dressed couple.

Pacheco contacted the Court of Family and Minors of Braga and the Commission of Protection of Children and Young People at risk. “The Commission already knew that she had said that she wanted to give the baby up for adoption.” But it transpired she had not given the baby away – in fact, she had sold it. The couple in question were later traced via the civil registry and their baby was taken away from them.

There is a social service in each maternity wing that monitors mothers for any indication that they have rejected their baby, a common phenomenon among the socially isolated and the poor. Belmiro Patrício, director of the Obstetrics Service in Porto’s São João Hospital, explains: “Drug-addicted mothers and prostitutes sometimes live in such despair that they feel it impossible to give affection. So they start looking for other solutions.”

‘Behave, or I’ll sell you

to an American’

“Although today it is easier to adopt, there are people who think that it is safer and less conspicuous, in social terms, to buy,” explains Octávio Cunha, from the Hospital de Santo António in Porto.

In the maternity ward of Bissaya Barreto hospital in Coimbra, for example, rumours frequently run through the hospital about the sale of babies. Earlier this year, a new mother received a visit from a couple who introduced themselves as the grandparents of the child, but their interaction with the mother were considered strange and staff became suspicious, preventing any further contact. Another investigation by the PJ revealed that at least two heavily pregnant Bulgarian women had entered Portugal to give birth and then immediately sold their children to Portuguese couples in exchange for gold.

Baby sales have also been reported on the Azores Island of Terceira. The scandal broke in 1999, following a report by RTP television. Various mothers came forward to admit that they had sold their new born children to Americans from the Lajes air base. All were convinced that the baby would have a better life in the US. Although the practice on those islands has diminished, parents still use a popular expression to remonstrate with their children: “If you don’t behave, I’ll sell you to an American!”

Experts claim that the practice of selling babies is likely to continue and will remain largely outside the remit of the law. The problem is exacerbated because those who buy and sell do not complain – they both have something to gain and therefore the conspiracy of silence is likely to remain.