In this Southeast Asian nation, where legal adoption can take years, people are handing over thousands of dollars to baby sellers and turning to corrupt officials to help register the children they buy as their own.
A baby’s price can range from about $400 to $7,500, with their value determined by race, skin colour, gender and weight.
“The lighter skin, if a male, higher price. The darker skin, a girl, lower price. And then if you’re a mix, higher price. This is how it works,” explained Hartini.
The babies offered for sale come from a variety of women. Some are poor migrant workers who, by law, are not allowed to have children in the country. Others come from Malaysian women, including some who are forced to give up their babies to avoid the stigma associated with having a child out of wedlock.
In this Muslim-majority country, having a child out of wedlock is not just frowned upon; it’s a Shariah offence for a Muslim woman to have sex with a man who is not her husband. The punishment is up to three years in prison, whipping and a fine of up to 5,000 ringgit (about $1,155).
The buyers are often childless couples desperate to start a family and frustrated with the country’s convoluted adoption procedures. But activists say some babies are bought for more sinister purposes, sometimes by syndicates who groom children for paedophiles.