SINGAPORE, May 15: At a Waterloo Street temple in Singapore, a man in his 60s approaches an Indonesian Chinese woman to ask if she has a baby to sell. The silver-haired man, who goes by the name Ah Meng, tells her he knows of childless Singaporean couples who would pay good money for babies. The price: 30 million rupiah (about $3,185).
A business is born ~ in baby-trafficking. That is what Muliati, 34, also known as Ah Kik, told Batam police about how she got into the trade two years ago. She was nabbed at her home on 9 January with three babies bound for Singapore.
Another woman, Fong Chee Hua, 44, also known as Ah Hua, was detained too. She was arrested at her house on the same day with another baby, also meant for a Singaporean.
The baby trade is not a complicated business, going by what the two women told us while they were in custody.
The source of supply was poor families in Medan, Indonesia, who gave the babies to a woman who went by the name of Xiulan. Xiulan, in turn, got 6 million rupiah ($637) for a baby from Ah Kik. Generally, say sources, families are paid one million to two million rupiah ($106-212) per baby.
Xiulan would call Ah Hua in Batam whenever she came by babies. Ah Hua would arrange to pick them up and house them at her home in Kampung Utama in Batam, or at Ah Kik’s home in Ramada Indah. Batam Island is about 20 km from Singapore. Ah Hua received about 25,000 rupiah ($2.65) a day to look after one baby and a lump sum of 600,000 rupiah ($63) a month as “commission”.
In the one-hour interview at the Batam Lubukbaja district police station last month, the plump woman said in Bahasa Indonesia: “My daughter is grown up. I had nothing to do at home, so I became a nanny. Ah Kik paid for diapers and milk, so I did not need to come up with a single cent.” On the Singapore side, Ah Meng would call Ah Kik whenever there was a Singaporean couple wanting a baby. He would then accompany them to the women’s homes to choose one.
“Ah Meng rejected four babies before. He said they were not swee,” Ah Kik said. Swee in Hokkien, a Chinese dialect, means good-looking. “Singaporeans like fair and cute babies,” she said, adding that Singapore-bound babies were of Chinese or Chinese-Malay parentage.
She hired three women to care for the babies. They too have been detained. Her neighbour, who wanted to be known as Madam Ebi, 30, said there were 10 young children at Ah Kik’s house at any one time.
She said: “I thought they were her kids but they were different all the time. Some looked Chinese, others looked Malay. They would play outside, riding their little scooters and running about.” The three-storey house was quiet when we visited. Baby clothing was hung out to dry and a blue stroller was outside. The doors were open but nobody responded to repeated calls.
Madam Ebi added: “Muliati didn’t like to mix around. She had many visitors, all Chinese, but they would come at night.” When the Singaporean couple had made their choice, Ah Meng gave Ah Kik 15 million rupiah ($1,592) ~ half of the agreed price for a baby ~ to help pay the various people involved. He and the Singaporean couple would return to Singapore the same or the following day. A delivery date would be arranged, usually a week or two later. Next, Ah Kik asked an Indonesian man named Ah Siong to make passports for the babies, at 10 million rupiah ($1,061) each ~ 38 times the price of a genuine one. Ah Kik would ferry the baby from Batam Centre to Harbour Front Ferry Terminal in Singapore, where Ah Meng would be waiting, alone or accompanied by the baby’s prospective parents. The final payment of 15 million rupiah would change hands.
Nine babies were brought in this way over the last two years, Ah Kik said. “Only once, a Singapore immigration officer stopped to ask where I was going with the baby. I told him the baby was sick and needed to see the doctor. He let me in,” she added. Ah Hua said she took a baby across last November, and was paid 3 million rupiah ($318) for the job. We tried to reach Ah Meng on his mobile phone, but the number had been disconnected. In Singapore, according to the Children and Young Persons Act, bringing or helping to bring a child into Singapore by or under false pretence, false representation, or fraudulent or deceitful means within or outside Singapore, is an offence.
Last year, the ministry of community development, Youth and Sports processed 556 applications for adoption. Of these, 56 per cent were for the adoption of foreign children. Under Indonesian law, Ah Kik and Ah Hua can be jailed for up to 15 years each if convicted of baby trafficking. Ah Kik said she regrets what she has done. Ah Hua added: “I know it was wrong. I did this because I needed money.”
They were composed but guarded during the interview. District police chief Karimuddin Ritonga said: “When they were first caught, they cried non-stop for several days, claiming to be innocent. We had trouble getting them to talk.” Acting on an informant’s tip-off, his staff nabbed Ah Hua red-handed at her house on Jan 9. She claimed the baby was her adopted son but admitted it was for sale after questioning. She spilled the beans on Ah Kik, who was caught later the same day with three babies for sale.
The women said they travelled to Singapore several times a month to shop and eat. Ah Hua said: “I’d go there with my daughter and walk around the East Coast malls. Sometimes, we would stay overnight at a budget hotel.” Ah Kik said she had been praying at the Waterloo Street temple for a long time. But when asked about Ah Meng, the women shrugged and said they knew little about him.
Said Karimuddin: “They are still hiding a lot of information. We will grill them further.”
The Straits Times/ANN