Sex work in Da Nang has facilitated the trade of unwanted infants, usually under the guise of social welfare
A view of the Hai Chau District Center for Abandoned Children in the central city of Da Nang. Neighbors say the center never takes care of children but, instead, gives them away. At least one of the center's employees has offered millions of dong to mothers for their children.
"If I'd had money, I wouldn't have sold my child. It's only because I was born unlucky," said a sex worker identified only as T.N.
N. recalled that the woman who bought her child several years back allowed her to live in her house for a month and keep the baby for one week before deciding to sell it.
"It was still blood-red when I gave it away, so poor! But if I kept it, where would I get the money to raise it?
"If I'd kept it, I would have had to pay the medical fees and for baby clothes [that the woman had put up]," the girl said. "This woman promised me VND26 million (US$1,333) for my baby."
"I hope it would end up with some happy family. Staying with me would mean endless misery. My line of work chews people up and spits them out."
She offered the following advice to mothers facing a similar situation: "If your life is not too difficult, don't sell your baby. And if you choose to sell, don't let yourself see it. You will be haunted for the rest of your life."
A woman who has been living with T.N. for some time said N. spent a year saving up money before she began searching for her child.
"But she never found the center where she was told her child would be sent to live and study," said N.'s friend.
A one-month investigation conducted by Thanh Nien revealed that no legitimate charities are offering such money for the unwanted children of sex workers.
Instead, there is a thriving trade in babies.
A sex worker in the area said many of her friends had sold babies for VND20 to 26 million. Some sold numerous children. One such mother was HIV-positive and another was a drug addict but they still managed to sell off their infants, she said.
Sex workers in the area referred to a female buyer named Xe who keeps a lookout for sex workers with growing bellies and offers them money for their babies as soon as they show signs of pregnancy.
"That lady buys quickly, pays quickly," said one sex worker who asked not to be named. "She'll buy any baby and never bothers to check if the mother is infected or HIV-positive."
Xe only approaches strangers who do not want their babies during the final month of their pregnancy. She does so to ensure that the baby's family won't contact her or try to look for the child later.
When Thanh Nien tracked Xe down, she said she worked for an adoption center but refused to name it.
"I don't want people to come asking for their children back," she said.
The broker says that "there's no way these babies won't end up in a good family." Xe said she follows the laws which only allow rich, childless couples to adopt.
According to her prostitute customers, Xe pays VND15 million for each baby. The transactions go more smoothly when the due date is close and the mothers have little chance to change their minds, the sex workers said.
Xe persuades the mothers to give birth at Da Nang Hospital, and she provides clothes and essential items for the baby, as an added incentive.
"Remember, you must not enter the hospital right away but sit at the front and wait for me," Xe said. "And don't say anything inside the hospital, just pretend that I'm your aunt or sister-in-law," she told a mother.
An obstetrician at Da Nang Hospital, who asked not to be named, said she had never heard of a charity organization willing to pay for delivery costs and postnatal care in addition to such a large payoff to a woman who wants to abandon her child.
Infant trade in disguise
Another sex worker who recently sold her child advised women in her situation to look for a nurse named My, around 40, at
Teresa Hospital, the former name of Hai Chau District Medical Center in the central Da Nang City.
"I don't buy babies, I just help you give birth and I introduce the baby to someone and you will get whatever they give," My told a girl seeking her help.
She asked the girl not to provide her real name to doctors. "Just make up some name and I'll take care of the rest."
Soon after their initial meeting, My introduced the girl to a woman named Phuc, who insisted on having conversations in dark and vacant corners of the hospital. During these exchanges, she only allowed one person to stay with the pregnant girl.
"This matter shouldn't be known by many people," she said.
Like Xe, Phuc wants the mother to promise to cease contact after the deal is done. Phuc claimed she has worked for an adoption program for many years and guaranteed that the baby would end up in a "very good" family.
Phuc promised a girl seeking her help a "support" fee that "won't be small." The broker said her organization will pay for the mother's medical fees, baby clothes and housing until delivery.
A trace of her landline number revealed that she works for the Center for Abandoned Children in Hai Chau District.
The center is almost always locked inside and nearby residents said they've never seen the center care for a single baby.
It gave all the babies away and usually not to good families, the neighbors claimed.
There's suspicion that the center bought babies and lied about them being left at their doorstep. Then, the center ran newspaper ads asking for the mothers to return and claim their babies, which certainly never happened.
After 30 days, the center could legally give the baby away.
Nguyen Van An, deputy director of the Da Nang Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs said the agency can only check up on how the centers treat their children; it's the job of the Justice Department to find out how the babies are admitted and who they are sent to.
However, An said current law requires that if an adoption center receives a baby from its mother, it must obtain a note listing her personal information and the reason she cannot take care of the baby.
The note must then be certified by a local government official.
An said that if an adoption center helps a mother cover the cost of her hospital fees, milk, medicine and pays a stipend of VND100,000-200,000, that's acceptable.
"But if there's negotiation and a lot of money involved in the exchange, that's the case of infant trading which is banned," An said.