In a rare precedence, two people of an organised ring involved in stealing infants have been found guilty in court and handed down the highest punishment -- life imprisonment -- under the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, 2012.
“Due to legal and systematic limitations”, the court said, the other two members of the gang could not be proved guilty.
Those facing life imprisonment are: Jhorna Begum, who was caught in 2006 with two newborns, and Manik, husband of a staffer at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).
The other two are: Matin, who had worked as a guard at the hospital for four decades, and Shila, Manik’s wife who has been on the run ever since the existence of the gang was revealed with Jhorna in police custody.
Jhorna was caught with a 10-12 day old baby boy in January 2006 when Khilgaon police were on the lookout for another baby. They later found out that she had left a baby girl in a rented room in Rampura.
Though none of the babies was the one police were looking for, Jhorna having two babies of nearly the same age gave rise to suspicion, and the law enforcers filed a case as complainant.
Extensive interrogations in police custody brought to the fore the activities of the gang who helped Jhorna obtain the infants in exchange of money.
In her confessional statement, Jhorna said she had gone to DMCH to adopt a child and there, a nurse advised her to go to the social service office. While leaving the hospital, she learnt from Matin that she could get a child for money and they exchanged mobile numbers.
On December 31, 2005, Matin told Jhorna to go to the hospital where she was introduced to Shila. As per agreement made that day, Shila and her husband Manik handed her a baby boy at Fatulla in Narayanganj for Tk 12,000.
Three days later, Matin again called her to say she could have another baby if she was interested. She went to DMCH to get introduced to another female staffer whose name she could not recall during the submission of her statement. That female staffer gave her the baby girl.
Jhorna paid Tk 10,000 for the girl, of which Tk 4,000 went to the female hospital staffer.
Manik confessed to being involved in stealing the baby boy. He said his wife Shila had brought Jhorna home and handed her the baby boy in front of him.
The court could not hold Matin and Shila guilty since no confessional statements had been recorded and witnesses, including the investigation officer, had not said much about their involvement, said Mahmuda Akter, special public prosecutor at the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-3.
Jhorna in her statement said that she had no children and wanted to adopt a child.
The court ruled this out, saying if she had that intention, she would not have gotten two babies of around the same age.
The convicts were also fined Tk 50,000 each. They will have to serve six more months in jail for failing to pay the money, according to the judgement passed on June 11.
“This is a rare conviction,” said Mahmuda, hailing it for bringing to attention the crime of babies being stolen at a public hospital.
To prevent such crimes, the court said staff and guards at hospitals should wear uniforms and newborns should be kept under tight security and CCTV coverage.