The interior ministry of Uzbekistan in a press briefing last week said it has recorded 185 cases of infant trafficking recorded in 2017-2020, with officials citing difficult financial and social conditions as one of the main factors behind the crime.
The report has prompted anti-slavery groups on Friday to urge the Uzbek government to step up its effort in fighting the crime in order to discourage traffickers and prevent the number from growing up.
They said that while the annual average was little changed for the last three-years, trafficking experts said many cases may go undetected and expressed concern that hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could fuel the illegal baby trade.
“The numbers might go up in case we do not take immediate action,” said Sanjarbek Toshbaev, head of the U.N. International Organization for Migration (IOM) office in the Central Asian nation, describing the situation as “alarming”.
As in neighbouring countries, measures to curb the coronavirus have hit Uzbekistan hard, pushing poverty levels up, as exports and remittances from migrant workers dwindled, and forcing many businesses to close, the U.N. development agency (UNDP) said in July.
Cases unearthed by police in recent months showed families could make several thousand dollars from selling a baby, according to local media reports. Monthly wages in the former Soviet republic average US$300, according to official data.
“The government must ensure that women … are able to look after themselves and their children without resorting to such extreme and desperate illegal activities,” said Tsitsi Matekaire of women’s rights group Equality Now.
The Uzbek government, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has been providing some assistance to families affected by the pandemic, said NodiraKarimova, director of local anti-slavery group Istiqbolli Avlod.
Uzbekistan has boosted its anti-trafficking efforts in recent years as part of a drive by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to open up the nation after decades of isolation and economic stagnation, but some structural problems remain, experts say.
The adoption process is overly bureaucratic and opaque, said Karimova – pushing some families to cut corners and attempt to buy children instead, added Toshbaev.
Gaps in the registration of pregnancies and births as well as poor coordination between government agencies are also an issue, the head of Uzbekistan’s human trafficking commission, Tanzil Narbayeva, told local media in December.
Many people are also unaware that buying and selling babies is against the law, Toshbaev said.
“Not all the persons selling their babies might understand to the full extent that this is a crime,” he said, adding that authorities had only started to openly acknowledge the issue in recent years.
“If the government has started to discuss this problem, this is progress for the better,” Karimova said. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)