Story Behind the Story

Baby Trade Worries Tajikistan

I first learned about baby trafficking in a conversation with my husband’s relative, who works for the Prosecutor General’s office in Tajikistan. She said that the trial of a woman who sold her child for 90 US dollars was about to begin.

Hearing this made me wonder what makes people try and sell their children, and also how society treats such parents. I called the IWPR office in Dushanbe to pitch this idea for a story, and they gave me the go-ahead to write it.

It took almost two weeks and a great deal of effort to gather the material for the report, which was written in the middle of February, when the weather was unusually cold and transport worked badly.

There was no electricity in our neighbourhood for a week – the transformer burnt out and we were left without light. Electricity at work was also cut off from 9 am till 5 pm and I had to go to the IWPR office to type up this material.

I also had some difficulties in securing interviews for the piece and had to make use of some of my existing contacts.

I managed to talk to a Supreme Court judge, Larisa Kabilova, who noted that child-trafficking appeared to be on the rise.

“One gets the impression that selling under-age children has become a kind of business for some mothers,” she told me.

When researching the story, I also tried to contact many law enforcement and government officials, international and non-governmental organisations, representatives from political parties, sociologists, and prominent scientists. Once contact had been established, I stayed in regular touch with them.

State officials are sometimes less than eager to cooperate with journalists. They are reluctant to discuss problems the country is experiencing because they are scared to lose their jobs.

Parliament sources I spoke to asked me not to name them, and I respected their wishes as being a parliamentarian correspondent, I plan to work with them in future.

They gave me “friendly” advice not to raise this issue, because “it casts a shadow on our nation”. “Why do you need this? Do women in other countries not sell their children? You will insult our ancient nation!” one said.

I wanted to draw parliament members’ attention to the problem of baby trafficking and convince them to consider giving social support to single mothers. My research showed that sociologists believe that most mothers are driven to sell their babies out of poverty and desperation, rather than greed.

However, I failed to secure an interview with anyone from the committee on women and family affairs.

I got in touch with Colonel Azimjon Ibrohimov, head of the Tajik interior ministry department that deals with human trafficking, whom I met last year when writing about deported prostitutes from United Arab Emirates. He agreed to meet me the next day.

During this interview, the colonel revealed that the number of women selling their children appeared to be on the increase. The police recorded 13 cases of human trafficking involving minors last year, while two months into 2008, there were already six cases.

Ibrohimov also said that while in the past, mostly young mothers tried selling their babies, now older women were getting involved.

I wanted to speak to someone in charge of an orphanage. However, I had problems in contacting the director of a particular orphanage in the capital city of Dushanbe. I tried to get hold of him for almost two days. He was not there when I visited.

I then decided to try the head doctor at another Dushanbe orphanage that cares for 60 under-fives - Saodat Nabieva. She kindly agreed to answer my questions.

Nabieva believes that vulnerable women were increasingly attempting to sell their children as they no longer had the social safety-net they had back in Soviet times.

The most challenging aspect of the feature was securing interviews with the traumatized women who were punished for selling their children. Some of the mothers I approached refused to look at me - they averted their faces and did not answer my questions. Others wrapped themselves up in their scarves and cried.

My nephew, a gynecologist, put me in touch with 17-year-old Ravila. For my work, I encourage all my friends and relatives to report interesting information to me. The teenager, who was staying in a maternity house, was his patient.

I traveled to the other part of the city in order to speak with Ravila, when she came to the doctor’s for her appointment.

I first hear about Rajab and Istad, a couple who remain childless after 21 years of marriage, after Istad came to my work to ask for help in adopting a child.

Although the couple, who have their own small business, had applied to become adoptive parents, the childcare authorities in Dushanbe turned them down, saying they were too poor.

They live in one room in a worker’s hostel and share a bathroom, kitchen and outside lavatory with other tenants.

Istad conveyed the desperation which many childless parents have to conceive.

“If we could adopt a boy, I would stay at home and look after him and he would receive all our love and care,” she said.

“If somebody suggested we could buy a baby, we probably wouldn’t say no.”

Salimakhon Vakhobzade is an IWPR contributor and a correspondent of Narodnaya Gazeta (People’s Newspaper).


Link to original story by Salimakhon Vahobzade in Dushanbe - RCA No. 535, 04-Mar-08

The Story Behind the Story gives an insight into the work that goes into IWPR articles and the challenges faced by our trainees at every stage of the editorial process.

This feature allows our journalists to explain where they get the inspiration for their articles, why the subjects matter to them, and how they personally have felt affected by the often controversial issues they explore.

It also shows the difficulties writers can face as they try to get to the heart of a story.


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