LAGOS - Nigeria's police said Friday they had raided a home where 19 pregnant women were staying with plans to sell their newborns, in the latest discovery of a so-called baby factory.
The owner of the property, suspected of being a broker in a child trafficking ring, is on the run, said Geoffrey Ogbonna, police spokesman in southeastern Abia state.
Police "rescued 19 expectant mothers in different stages of pregnancy", he told AFP.
Southeast Nigeria is grappling with a human trafficking epidemic, with a series of black market maternity homes discovered in the last year.
In most cases, young women have run to such homes to avoid the stigma attached to pregnancies conceived outside of marriage.
They take a portion of the money earned from selling the baby.
There have also been reports of young women kidnapped and forcibly impregnated by human traffickers, but such cases are thought to be extremely rare.
Ogbonna said the details of the latest baby factory found in Abia's capital Umuahia were not immediately clear.
"The proprietress fled before our men got to the place. We met her son and his wife. They are in custody," he said.
Some of the pregnant women, aged between 15 and 23, told police they "ran from home to escape the stigma of having unwanted pregnancies they cannot take care of", the police spokesman said.
The buyers are most often couples who have been unable to conceive and male children typically earn a much higher price than baby girls.
"It's a crime to sell or buy babies. Couples looking for children should go through legal adoption process," he said.
Human trafficking, including the selling of children, is the third most common crime in Nigeria behind fraud and drug trafficking, according to the United Nations.
Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer, but poverty is widespread across the country and most of the estimated 170 million people still live on less than two dollars a day.