JAKARTA - Police in Indonesia's second-largest city Surabaya have broken up a ring that has been selling babies through an Instagram page which had claimed to be the social media account of an agency promoting family welfare.
The account holder, who is only known by the initials "AP", claims to be a 29-year-old man helping to find solutions for family problems. The account holder, along with a 22-year-old woman who had tried to sell her baby boy, were among four people arrested by police in early September, the Kompas daily reported on Wednesday (Oct 10).
A broker and a would-be buyer were also arrested. The four are each facing a maximum 15 years' jail term.
The still-active Instagram account currently has 722 followers.
Among the posts is a screen capture of a WhatsApp chat which included a photo of the lower half of a pregnant woman from Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan.
The woman, whose identity was not revealed, wants someone to adopt her child. No other description was provided.
Those who write to the Instagram account holder would receive WhatsApp messages from an Indonesian number in reply. Screen captures of these chats would then be posted on the Instagram page to encourage others to engage AP's services.
One post, in Bahasa Indonesia, reads: "I am unmarried and seven months pregnant. My plan is to find someone who wants to adopt my child and provide me with accommodation until my pregnancy's due date. I don't want my family to find out."
The Instagram page also uses photos of clients - mothers with faces covered - who had sold their babies.
Police in Surabaya said they had intercepted a transaction which was to have taken place on Sept 3.
The 22-year-old mother, known by her initials "LA", was about to sell her baby. The buyer was to pay 15 million rupiah (S$1,400) to the woman, and another 5 million rupiah to the broker and 2.5 million rupiah to AP, reported Kompas.
The mother of three had accumulated personal debts prior to consulting AP on his Instagram page. She lives separately from her husband, who does not have a stable job.
After contacting AP, the woman was introduced to someone in Bali who had expressed interest in her infant third child, Kompas reported quoting Colonel Sudamiran, Surabaya's chief detective.
"Selling babies is a crime that cannot be tolerated. The syndicates have switched to using social media. It is cheap and has a wide reach," Mr Susanto, chairman of the Indonesian child protection commission (KPAI), a government agency, told The Straits Times.
During the police investigation, AP claimed he had conducted only four transactions, which included the botched attempt to sell the 22-year-old woman's child.
He said the transactions ranged from 15 million to 20 million rupiah.
AP said he used his knowledge of family welfare issues, learnt in university and during a job stint as a volunteer counsellor, to persuade potential mothers to sell their babies.
Police said after he created the Instagram page, more than 100 netizens contacted him. Most are young unmarried mothers.
Mr Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of Komnas PA, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on child protection, said that from January 2018, his organisation has received 11 reports of child trafficking from the public, compared to eight reports for the whole of 2017.
The organisation contacts the police after receiving such reports.
The cases range from child sex trafficking to illegal adoption, and involve children aged five years old and younger, Mr Arist added.
He said the motives vary for such adoptions. "Some cases involved overseas buyers who want the children for sex or to harvest their organs," Mr Arist told The Straits Times.
He said the cases his organisation handled represented a small fraction of those that police have uncovered.
He said the police do not disclose nationwide figures for such cases.
"We are in the dark of how bad the problem is and what the trend has been," added Mr Arist.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.