More than 20 suspects were arrested on Monday as part of an international investigation involving police from Nigeria, Benin and Niger.

The suspects were “mostly women”, and included one of the wives of Niger’s former prime minister and current parliament speaker Hama Amadou, who is seen as the main challenger to President Mahamadou Issoufou in elections due in 2016. The wife of Agriculture Minister Abdou Labo was also detained.

Eighteen of the suspects were later charged with other offences including fraudulently assigning the babies’ maternity, a judicial source said. Thirteen others were said to have been acquitted.

“The trafficking network is used primarily by couples who are unable to have a baby,” a source close to the case told AFP.

A number of health workers and employees at the birth registry office were also detained. Some suspects were referred to the public prosecutor on Wednesday.

The impoverished country of Niger has the biggest birth rate in the world, an average of 7.6 children per woman.

Source: Times Live