BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz authorities have detained several individuals over the sale of newborn babies, including one case in which hospital staff falsely told parents that their child had died at birth.
A criminal investigation was opened on September 11 against several employees of a maternity hospital in the capital -- the fifth case so far this year involving the attempted sale of children in Kyrgyzstan.
Reports say doctors at the unnamed facility told the parents shortly after the baby's birth that it had died, before attempting to sell it.
Raisa Asylbasheva, head of the Kyrgyz Health Ministry's OB/GYN department, told RFE/RL that the ministry has established a working group to investigate the incident and look into operations at all of the country's maternity hospitals.
"There are 1,060 gynecologists and midwives in Kyrgyzstan, and we can't follow what everyone does," Asylbasheva said, before urging the public to come forward if they have witnessed or heard about illegal activities.
"We have to fight against these societal ills together," she added.
Some people point to pay levels for state health-care workers in a country where the average salary is about 14,000 soms (about $220) per month.
"Perhaps [doctors and other medical workers] do this out of need," said Ainura Altybaeva, a parliament deputy. "Whatever it is, that by no means justifies their criminal actions."
Human rights activist Avazkhan Ormonova cited several factors behind the trafficking of small children in Kyrgyzstan, including complicated adoption procedures.
"Women who are not officially married or who become pregnant after being raped often try to sell their babies, as do those who...give birth after already having several children," she said.
In 2015, a 26-year-old man in the northwestern Naryn region was detained for trying to exchange his 5-month-old daughter for a goat.
Last year, three women were detained in Bishkek for allegedly arranging the sale of a 3-month-old baby for 10,000 soms (about $150).
Earlier this year, a woman in the Chui region, outside the capital, was detained by police after reportedly trying to sell her three children for 80,000 soms ($1,150).
The cases of illegal trafficking in babies comes amid a boom in "fertility tourism" in Kyrgyzstan, which boasts six fertility clinics serving Kyrgyz and hundreds of foreign patients each year for in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, and other procedures.
Critics point out that many of those detained and arrested for trying to sell children go unprosecuted.
"If we want to prevent the [sale of children] from happening, it is necessary to improve the laws and tighten the punishment for such crimes," said activist Ormonova.