IN a shocking turn of events, a Kenyan hospital employee, Fred Leparan, formerly employed at Nairobi’s Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital, has been convicted of child trafficking following a damning exposé by the BBC. The investigation captured Leparan accepting $2,500 to facilitate the sale of a baby boy under the hospital’s care. Leparan’s arrest in 2020 came as a result of a meticulous BBC Africa Eye probe into the child trafficking network operating within the government-run healthcare institution.
Leparan, along with another hospital employee, Selina Awour, was charged with child theft. However, Awuor was acquitted of child trafficking charges but convicted on three counts of child neglect. The fate of both individuals will be determined during their sentencing on September 26th.
The BBC’s Africa Eye reporter, posing as a prospective buyer, initiated contact with Leparan after receiving information from a confidential source suggesting his involvement in illicit child trafficking at the hospital. A meeting was arranged at Mama Lucy Hospital, where Leparan, without thorough scrutiny, agreed to sell the baby boy to the undercover reporter, who claimed to be struggling with infertility alongside her husband.
On the day scheduled for the baby boy’s transfer to a government-run children’s home, along with two other children, Leparan was caught on camera falsifying transfer paperwork to mislead the home into expecting two children instead of three. While the BBC team ensured all three children were safely delivered to the children’s home, Leparan surreptitiously altered the paperwork, asserting that the child was now the property of the undercover reporter.
Despite substantial evidence against him, the legal proceedings spanned over two years. Leparan, backed by a formidable legal defence, resorted to inconsistent and evasive witness testimony. He initially attempted to disavow the voice in the undercover footage, despite clear visual evidence. Eventually, he conceded that some of the words were indeed his.
Moreover, Leparan claimed unfamiliarity with various parts of the hospital, despite courtroom evidence depicting him covertly orchestrating the theft and transfer of the baby boy.
The BBC’s investigation, though exposing the sale of one child from Mama Lucy Hospital, unveiled an even grimmer reality. An anonymous former employee disclosed knowledge of 12 children mysteriously disappearing from the hospital’s care in just two months. The informant attributed this alarming trend to corruption, highlighting that many staff members stayed silent in exchange for bribes.
Kenya grapples with a high demand for stolen children, driven by cultural stigma surrounding infertility and the cumbersome legal adoption process. The hospital-based scheme orchestrated by Leparan is just one facet of this multifaceted crisis. The Africa Eye team also documented traffickers arranging the sale of babies in illegal street clinics and the brazen abduction and sale of infants born to vulnerable, homeless mothers in the city.
Mary Auma, who ran a clinic where vulnerable mothers sold their babies for profit, went into hiding after being exposed by the undercover team. Upon returning to Nairobi, there was no trace of Auma, and her clinic was shuttered.
Nonetheless, child abductions continue in Nairobi. In the vicinity of the closed clinic, a distraught woman held a flyer with a picture of her five-year-old granddaughter, Chelsea Akinye, who had been snatched from the street over a year ago. The grandmother, Rosemary, has tirelessly searched for Chelsea, hoping for closure in any form.
Despite the absence of reliable statistics on child trafficking in Kenya, the country’s Labor and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary, Florence Bore, reported 6,841 children missing between July 2022 and May 2023, with only 1,296 reunited with their families.
Mueni Mutisya, from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations Child Trafficking Unit, disclosed an average of five new child abduction cases per week, predominantly affecting low-income families.
In 2020, then Minister for Labour and Social Protection Simon Chelugui vowed robust government action against child trafficking. While new laws were enacted to strengthen child protections, experts like Ms. Mueni assert that more must be done. She called for legislation mandating the public to report suspicions of child abuse or abduction to collectively safeguard children.
The most vulnerable children remain those within impoverished families, according to Maryana Munyendo, the head of charity Missing Child Kenya, which operates a toll-free line for reporting abductions. She reported an average of three missing child cases daily, primarily from Nairobi’s slum areas.
As Kenya grapples with this child trafficking crisis, experts and advocates emphasise the urgent need for comprehensive measures to protect the nation’s children and bring an end to this heinous practice.