Bangladesh busts kidney trafficking gang : Bangladesh grapples with illegal kidney trade

Bangladeshi police said they had uncovered a major organ trafficking ring that is believed to have persuaded up to 200 people to sell their kidneys for cash.

Three people were arrested Sunday(28-8-11) in the remote Kalai area, 300 kilometres northwest of Dhaka, after reports surfaced that villagers were having their organs removed illegally.

“We have found that scores of poor villagers have sold their kidneys for 150,000 to 200,000 taka (2,000 to 3,000 dollars),” local district police chief Fazlul Karim told AFP.

“Some 38 villagers from five villages in the area have sold their kidneys for cash, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. We believe there could be up to 200 victims,” he said.

The police investigation has found that in some families in the area, which is one of the most impoverished regions of Bangladesh, four or five people had sold their kidneys, he said.

The probe has been extended to Dhaka as investigators suspect that the organ trafficking gang includes doctors, nurses and businessmen working in the capital, he said.

“The three people we arrested are only low-level operators. Two of them had even sold their kidneys and then become part of the gang,” he said.

“It is only natural to assume medical professionals are involved,” he said, adding that the gang was suspected of selling organs to patients in Singapore and India.

Some of the affected villagers had become ill after their operations, he said.

Under Bangladeshi law, kidney transplants are allowed only if the organ is donated by a blood relative or

Real STORY Two years ago, Ainul Haque, a poor van driver in a remote Bangladeshi village, was frantically looking for some money to pay off loans he took out from ordinary people as well as microlenders. No one came to his assistance.

But all of a sudden, a man contacted Ainul and approached him with a proposal that sounded like a way out of his immediate financial woes and also out of the long-term, grinding poverty that is the situation of many others across Bangladesh.

The man asked him to sell a kidney for a price so high that it would give him the chance of paying off all his debts and even set up a small business to support his five-member family.

After hesitating at first, Ainul, 36, took the bait and travelled to Dhaka, the capital – where he had never been – with the broker, who took him in turn to another man who claimed to be a physician.

“I chose to sell my kidney as I needed money to pay back the accumulated loan instalments, for which the lenders were pressing me hard. I had no other alternative,” Ainul told Reuters.

Arrangements were made quickly and Ainul returned home a few days later with one of his kidneys gone. He received 170,000 taka ($2,300) and was pleased, since he was assured he would have no problem working even harder than before.

But Ainul soon found himself increasingly weak and unable to drive his van, leaving him with no ability to work.

Ainul is just one of many poor Bangladeshi villagers to fall victim to an organized “kidney racket” that sells organs both inside the country and overseas — a racket whose discovery, as reported in local media recently, set off a furore. Police and reporters fanned out, trying to locate victims and brokers.
Only close family members and relatives can donate kidneys for transplant in Bangladesh, according to law. The sale of kidneys or other organs is prohibited and violators are liable to sentences up to seven years in jail.

Police in the Kalai region, where Ainul lives, 300 km (180 miles) northwest of Dhaka, confirmed taking five suspected gang members into custody. Two confessed to having sold their own kidneys and then brokering similar sales for fellow villagers.

The broker often poses as a friend of relatives to lure the victims into hospitals across the country. They also arrange for the sale of the kidneys, including to buyers outside Bangladesh in places such as Singapore, Malaysia and India, Kalai police officer Fazlul Karim said.

“This is a booby trap and not only the very poor but some relatively well off villagers looking for substantial cash also stepped into it,” he said.

Many of the sellers eventually become too sick to work, like Ainul, and turn into beggars as they do not get the promised money. The promoters or middlemen take away a big slice of it.

“We know from some victims and sources that each kidney is priced up to 400,000 taka ($5,400) in Bangladesh but the sellers hardly get half of the price,” said newspaper journalist Hasibur Rahman.

Police have so far identified 35 victims in Kalai and nearby villages. In some cases, four or five members of one family all sold a kidney.

“The gang has been active since 2006. We are trying to find them all and collect the details of donors and the hospitals involved,” he said.

Mozammel Haque, another senior police officer, told reporters that the illegal trade could stretch to far beyond Kalai and Bangladesh’s northwest.

Rice and vegetables grow abundantly in Bangladesh’s northern regions but there are still many areas where the poverty level is high. Many residents are unable to ensure a daily meal for their families, send their children to schools, or give them proper healthcare.

Worst of all, some parents are forced to marry off their under-age daughters — sometimes as young as 10 — to lighten the burden of raising them.

Kalai is no different, say local journalists, making the offer of huge sums of money hard to resist despite the dangers.

In addition, a lack of education and social awareness are to blame for many poor people falling into the “get-rich-quick” traps laid by people such as the kidney sale brokers, said journalist Hasibur.

“It is unfortunate that most villagers in the area are illiterate or just had gone to primary schools. Their lack of awareness about the scourge of selling an organ encouraged the illegal trade,” he said.

Kalai’s Union Parishad, or local government council, has begun a campaign, telling villagers over microphones to be aware of and vigilant about the kidney buyers, and report to police any they come across.

“But the message…may be ignored in many cases because there is a strong feeling among the poor that money buys all but takes away just a little,” Hasibur said.

“The brokers often try to convince the (kidney) sellers by telling them that Allah (God) has created them with pairs of each vital organ – so they can survive even if they lose one.”

(Editing by Elaine Lies)

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