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Uganda: Babies Stolen From Mulago Hospital
Babies are being stolen from Uganda's main public hospital in scams orchestrated by doctors and nurses who are apparently selling the newborns, officials and activists say.
Some staff at Mulago Hospital may be colluding with childless Ugandan couples while other babies are possibly being sold to foreigners, police say.
"Ugandan children are being sold abroad and the government is doing nothing," said Marlon Agaba, the Uganda spokesman for an Africa-wide children's rights watchdog group known by its initials as ANPPCAN.
Campaigners have long warned that a combination of poverty, corruption and weak laws has made Uganda a target for child traffickers.
And in Uganda it is possible to obtain legal guardianship of a child in just a week, Mr Agaba said, which allows a guardian to travel with the child abroad even if the adoption process has not been completed.
Last week a Czech man without proper adoption papers was arrested while trying to leave Uganda with a three-month-old baby, according to Moses Binoga, Uganda's top anti-human trafficking detective.
Mr Binoga said Ugandan police had recently become more vigilant against human traffickers and that most stolen babies likely end up in the custody of childless Ugandan women.
Details on baby thefts remain scant and officials do not know how widespread it is.
But this year alone, at least three cases of baby theft have been reported at Mulago Hospital in the capital Kampala, according to police spokesman Patrick Onyango.
A police report released last year said there were 261 cases of child theft over a 12-month period, but that includes teenagers who are duped to go abroad for work but are forced into the sex trade. The police report did not break down the numbers.
Officials investigating one case announced on August 13 that a doctor was being suspended for his role in the alleged switching of a baby at Mulago Hospital in 2006.
The doctor, Asinja Kapuru, has confessed to swapping a healthy baby for a dead one after being confronted with the results of a DNA test.
Police arrested and questioned the doctor on Tuesday before releasing him because his case is still under investigation, according to Mr Onyango.
He said Kapuru is likely to be charged with child theft, a felony which carries a seven-year jail term.
Joel Okullo, a Ugandan doctor who led that investigation, said the case shows that some hospital workers likely "are part and parcel of the evil intention of others to steal babies" from unsuspecting parents.
Dr Okullo, who heads the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council, said hospital workers who steal babies are likely motivated by money in a country where public health professionals are poorly paid and overworked.
Many have sought work abroad or opened up private practices that consume most of their time.
Enock Kusasira, a spokesman for Mulago Hospital, said the hospital's critics have seized on "a few cases" of baby theft that he insisted probably went missing due to inexperience on the part of some staff.
He blamed some of the lapses on students who do their clinical training there and insisted that the staff generally makes sure babies are correctly matched with their mothers immediately after birth.
He said the guidelines were not strictly enforced among the staff until late last year, when new administrators took charge.