“I’m 50/50 on whether to sell this baby,” says Lucia, gesturing to her swollen stomach.
She is due to give birth in two months’ time. “Filipinos don’t need to worry about finding people to buy your baby,” she says. “Once I decide, there will be a couple who’s looking on that day also.” It’s word of mouth in her neighborhood of Tondo, Manila’s largest slum.
Once the baby’s fate is decided, the buyer will meet Lucia at the hospital the day she goes into labor, and that person will leave with the baby.
Lucia is already a mother of five. Once born, this will be the second child she has sold.
Lucia’s story is personal yet symbolic of hundreds of women living in slum communities in Manila’s vast expanse and in the Philippine provinces beyond, where the underground newborn trade is thriving.
Across Southeast Asia, hundreds of newborn babies are being sold, both on- and offline for as little as 300 pesos (about $6). In the Philippines, arguably the social media capital of the world, babies are sold on Instagram, Facebook, and other channels, including outside public hospitals and from Manila’s slums, where six out of 10 women have either sold or know someone who has sold a baby, according to women in slum neighborhoods. The majority of these women are living well below the poverty line.
The Philippines is devoutly Catholic, with a culture that encourages large families; adoption is heavily stigmatized. The nation’s Catholic Church also opposes birth control, with the constitution vowing to protect the “life of the unborn from conception.” Abortion remains illegal.
The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, providing greater access to free family planning, was passed in 2012. However, after a protracted tug-of-war between church and state, the government’s budget for contraceptives was axed in 2016. The law’s implementation was further curtailed with a Supreme Court case challenging its constitutionality and a Catholic organization obtaining a restraining order against contraceptive products, which was lifted only last year.
In the Philippines, babies are sold…