A nun and one other employee serving at a Missionaries of Charity center in India founded by Mother Teresa has been arrested and accused of child trafficking.
Acting on a series of complaints, the Indian Child Welfare Committee (CWC) affirmed that they are in the process of investigating the sale of a newborn baby boy from the Nirmal Hriday (Pure Hearts) home to a couple in Uttar Pradesh for 120,000 rupees – around $1,700. The baby was reported to have been born at the charity on March 19 and sold through the black market to a couple on May 14.
The nun at the center of the scandal, publicly identified only as Concilia, was detained on July 4 and the following day was placed under judicial custody by the court. Another employee from the center, set up by the late Mother Teresa -- who was canonized as St. Teresa in 2016 -- was also arrested in connection to alleged trafficking cases.
The charity has expressed shock over the allegations.
“We are shocked to know what has happened in our home… it is completely against our moral conviction,” Sunita Kumar, spokesperson for the Missionaries of Charity, stated. “We are carefully looking into this matter. We will take all necessary precautions that it never happens again, if it has happened.”
St. Teresa, who died in 1997, established the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 and now has more than 3,000 nuns operating the sisterhood globally – following in her footsteps to provide soup kitchens, hospices, schools, leper colonies and homes for forsaken minors. The charity also offers shelter for unmarried women, but no longer facilitates adoptions.
Once plagued by lengthy wait times, stringent laws and hefty costs, the Indian government sought to streamline the process in 2015 by moving the system online with a national database of the tens of thousands of available children. The Missionaries of Charity however, opposed the changes on the basis it gave leeway for single women and unmarried couples to adopt.
And despite efforts to make Indian adoptions more transparent, the black market continues to thrive as prospective parents often find it easier to skirt the legal system and adopt directly from hospitals or orphanages, exacerbating the trade in child trafficking.
Police also redeemed 140,000 rupees – just over $2,000 – from the Mother Teresa-founded center located in the eastern Indian city of Ranchi in the state of Jharkhand, and are believed to be broadening their investigation.
“We have found out that some other babies have also been illegally sold from the center. We have obtained the names of the mothers of these babies and are further investigating,” a police official told the BBC.
Officials are “investigating to see how the operation was run and how many more children have been given away in the last few years.” Arti Kujar, head of the Jharkhand State Child Protection Society, told Reuters that they suspect the home was charging upwards of $600 for each baby, depending on what the prospective parents could afford to pay.
“We hear that babies are being sold in other homes as well and are determined to put a stop to it,” Kujur said.
Trafficking of children in India carries a ten-year sentence.
The CWC has since relocated at least 13 pregnant women who were living in the once Mother Teresa-helmed center to another undisclosed location and the 3-month-old baby at the center of the investigation remains in CWC custody.
Nonetheless, skeptics of the accusations have also pointed out that the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which administers the government in Jharkhand state has been accused by Christian activists of targeting their religious minority, suggesting that the nun’s arrest may be part of a larger effort to tarnish the reputation of the church.