By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Six hospital staff in southern India have been charged with stealing babies and young children and selling them to childless couples in an illegal adoption racket, police in Karnataka state said on Friday.
The three men and three women, who worked as nurses and lab technicians at five private hospitals and a government-run hospital in Mysuru city, were part of a bigger, organized gang involved in trafficking children, investigating officer Ravi Channannavar said.
"The gang targeted poor couples coming to the hospitals to deliver or get an abortion, in which case they convinced them to deliver the child. They would then steal the babies," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In other cases, the gang would steal children from beggars on the streets and sell them for 200,000 rupees ($2,995) in cities like Bengaluru.
"Our investigations have revealed that the group had sold at least 15 children to different childless couples," Channannavar said.
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"We have rescued three children so far and are looking for the others. There may be many more."
Statements by the arrested gang members indicate the involvement of a doctor as well, police said.
The six were arrested on Tuesday following a lengthy investigation triggered in April when police received a complaint from a woman who said her two-year-old son had been snatched off the street.
Crime data released by the Indian government in August showed more than 40 percent of human trafficking cases in 2015 involved children being bought, sold and exploited as modern day slaves.
"This case is one of the few that has come to light, but there are many more unreported cases," said Paul Sundar Singh of non-profit Karunalaya, which runs a center for street children in Chennai.
"Stealing children is a big organized crime that police are still struggling to clamp down on across the country. Cases of young children stolen from the pavements of Chennai city earlier this year are still unsolved."
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)