The child that went missing from a philanthropic pagoda in Hanoi was reportedly given to his father and father's wife before dying of measles in June, police said.
On Monday, police arrested Nguyen Thanh Trang, who helped manage the orphanage at Bo De Pagoda for allegedly selling an illegitimate child to his father's actual wife Pham Thi Nguyet, for VND35 million (US$1,650).
Nguyet was also arrested.
Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted police as saying that the baby’s biological father, Nguyen Xuan T., and mother, Tran Thi Thu H. gave the baby to the pagoda in October 2013 after delivering him at a guest house.
The couple, who were illicit lovers in their 20s, left copies of their ID cards with Trang.
The boy's biological mother, H., returned to bring the child milk several times, but couldn't afford to take him back.
Police say that when the man's wife, Nguyet, came to Trang seeking a child to adopt she offered her husband's illegitimate child and asked a local vendor to pose as the child's relative.
With the biological mother's approval, the baby was sent to Nguyet at the beginning of this year.
Nguyet paid Trang VND35 million and asked her to give VND30 million to the mother as a thank-you for her surrogacy; Trang reportedly only gave the mother VND10 million.
Nguyet named the baby Pham Gia Bao.
In late May, the child developed measles and died at the Hanoi's Central Pediatrics Hospital the following month, the hospital confirmed.
Tien Phong newspaper said police are performing forensic tests to confirm the deceased child's identity.
Police found Nguyet had since adopted two more children from two different women.
After her arrest, the infants (aged one and two) were sent to a social welfare center.
A different story
Police launched their investigation after Nguyen Thanh Long, a local philanthropist, reported that the boy had gone missing from the pagoda earlier this year.
Long who had been caring for the boy with his wife, said they hadn't received a satisfactory explanation as to his whereabouts.
A nun walks past babies having a nap on at the Bo De pagoda in Hanoi. Photo credit: VnExpress
Tuoi Tre said the pagoda's chief nun, Thich Dam Lan, assigned Trang to care for the boy. The paper cited Long as saying the nun told him she released the baby to its biological mother based on her ID card.
But VnExpress told a different story.
“The boy was not registered in our books and not under our authority,” the news website quoted her as saying.
The nun said the boy did live at the pagoda for some time but she did never officially admitted him.
“I spotted Trang carrying the baby and asked her about him. She said the child was her nephew from her hometown. In my mind, we were already taking care of Trang and her children, so I saw no reason to be strict about her nephew.”
Trang asked to live at the pagoda with her two children in 2010 claiming poverty and had another child with a man during her time working at the pagoda.
The nun claimed the pagoda asked the authorities to look into Trang’s profile and they verified that all of her children belonged to her.
The nun dismissed media reports saying that the pagoda had named the boy Cu Nguyen Cong or empowered Trang to manage the orphanage.
“I don’t know who gave the boy that name. We didn’t.”
The nun said Trang was only in charge of cleaning the orphanage and was later assigned to make the lists of babies admitted to the pagoda to submit to the local authorities.
“We met with the local government every month to report the children admitted and released from the pagoda. The baby sold by Trang was not among them.”
The nun said she helped Trang out of love, but she could not control her social circle or behavior.
She said Trang had been going out regularly lately. When asked about her whereabouts, she said she went to visit her sick grandmother.
“I feel painful… Selling and buying children is strictly prohibited by the Buddha’s teaching. That is a very unethical, heartless act.”
The nun said she will take this as a lesson and strengthen her management of the pagoda, which is known for providing a home to hundreds of orphans and abandoned children, including those born with HIV.
On Monday, Deputy Head of the Social Welfare Department To Duc said his unit will check orphanages at all religious institutions to make sure they strictly comply with government regulations.