The National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) has arrested one Paulina Okere, an Indigene of Adavi in Kogi State, for trafficking 74 children under the guise of running an orphanage.
NAPTIP said that the suspect either abducted or deceived parents in Abuja communities into giving her their children under the guise of fostering only to turn around and give them out to people.
NAPTIP said investigation revealed that the accused had sent 25 children to Suleja, Niger State, 24 to different parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), five to Enugu, 10 to Owerri, six to Lagos, two to Kaduna and two to Anambra State.
So far, the agency has rescued and recovered 11 of the children and they are undergoing counseling and rehabilitation.
The Director General NAPTIP, Dame Julie Okah-Donli, said the agency was worried over the safety of the children whose actual whereabouts were yet to be ascertained.
Okah-Donli made this known in a press conference in Abuja where she said that the suspect had claimed that the children were orphans while some of the parents have debunked the claim.
The DG, who was represented at the conference by the Director Research and Programme Development, Anthony Mwoka, said that the agency was collaborating with sister agencies in locating the remaining children.
He added: “On the 6th of July, the suspect was arrested by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS), following a petition received from members of some communities in Kuje Area Council of the FCT.
“The suspect allegedly collected 74 children while claiming to foster them at her orphanage home known as Divine Hands of Hope located at Chukuku, in Kuje.
“She claimed that the children are orphans, but some of the parents have debunked the claim. The suspect carries out her activities with the collaboration of some workers of the orphanage who are now on the run.
“In the same vein, members of the community are still coming forward with names of some children said to have gone missing within the same neighborhood.”
One of the parents, Ezra Ibrahim from Karshi, said that he had given the suspect two children, his two and a half years old child and his three years old younger brother since May 2018 but had not seen any of them since then.
“I was happy when she told me that, which was why I gave her my children on the 21st of May 2018.
“She said we could visit the children ones every month but since then, anytime I ask her of my children, she tells me that she had taken them to another orphanage because her place would not contain all the children.”
Another parent, Laraba Haske said that she was told that the woman was assisting parents in training their children, so she sent two of her grandchildren aged eight and ten to the orphanage since she was having difficulty taking care of her own six children.
She said: “She promised to train the children in school, but whenever I go there and ask for my grandchildren, they call me names and chase me away.
“I have not seen any of them in a year and six months. I don’t know if my grandchildren are still alive. I don’t know if she sold them. All I know is that I want them back.”
The suspect, Paulina Okere, explained that she had good intention for the children.
She said: “I have good intentions. These children were brought to me in the disguise that there was a Fulani herdsmen attack in their village and some of them had lost their parents, and I have been accommodating them.
“I fell sick, and when I was about to be admitted, I called the man that handed the children to me with their community leaders and asked them how to go about it, and they suggested that I raise foster parents for the children.
“I drafted an agreement and filled a form which they signed. Some agreed that the children should be returned after primary or secondary school.
“By December last year, while I was critically ill, they called me and asked that I should return the children, and I told them that I was down.
“I have a Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) form and undergoing my registration with Social Development, and I have an Area Council certificate for my orphanage. I only sent them to foster parents that would take care of them.”