Bengaluru police bust interstate infant trafficking gang, rescue 15 children

The gang, over five years, sold 28 infants for amounts ranging from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 20 lakh. The babies were aged anywhere between 10 days to three months.

The follow-up investigations into the kidnapping of a newborn child from a Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) hospital last year has led to the busting of a large network that was allegedly involved in selling infants in southern India. The Bengaluru police have, so far, rescued 15 children and arrested five members of the network.

The sources said that the gang, over five years, sold 28 infants for amounts ranging from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 20 lakh. The babies were aged anywhere between 10 days to three months. The gang had networks in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Kerala.

The arrested are identified as Devi Shanmugham, Ranjana Devi Das, Mahesh Kumar, Dhanalakshmi and Janardhanan, all living in Bengaluru. Rathna, a resident of Vijayanagar and the alleged kingpin of the gang, died of Covid-19 and that has affected the investigation, said the police.

According to the police sources, the network identified those couples who were in need of children and those who were ready to sell them. In some cases, they also stole newborn babies from hospitals to sell them.

Deputy commissioner of police (south) Harish Pandey said, “they were sold with the consent of the parents but it is illegal. After handing over the (rescued) children to Child Welfare Committee (CWC), they have been sent with adopted parents. The biological parents, adopted parents and middlemen are booked but we are not arresting the parents as it would affect children,” he added.

It all started when a case was reported after a 45-day baby was stolen from BBMP government hospital in Chamarajpet on May 29 last year. It took more than a year to trace the case when the police found out that a doctor was involved in the crime. In June this year, the police arrested Dr Rashmi Shashikumar (31), a psychiatrist who allegedly stole a baby and gave it to a couple from north Karnataka stating that it was a child delivered by a surrogate mother.

A senior police officer said, “investigation in the case showed that two persons named Shankar and Vanitha had come down from Mumbai to sell a baby in Bengaluru. Immediately, in the disguise of buying the child for Rs 5 lakh, the cops met them in Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna (KSR) railway station. The police arrested them and eventually found out that it was Devi Shanmugham (one of the accused arrested now) who was supposed to make the deal.”

The arrest of Devi Shanmugam led to the arrest of many who were part of the network.

The modus operandi

The case was being investigated by the assistant commissioner of police (ACP), Jayanagar. The probe has revealed that in some of the cases, the accused stole babies and sold them to childless couples. In some cases, they would promise couples to get babies cheaply through surrogacy and collect sperm and later return after 10 months with a baby, sometimes with fake medical records of a surrogate mother.

As the surrogacy procedure costs somewhere between Rs 15-20 lakh, many childless couples were lured by the gang’s offer of a baby at a cheaper cost.

In some cases, biological parents who are unable to raise children due to financial distress sold babies with the help of this gang.

The gang members had insiders in some of the reputed IVF centres to give information on visitors. They were treated as potential buyers and the information was shared with the network.

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