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Last Updated: Friday, 2 February 2007, 16:27 GMT
Baby-smugglers jailed in France
Babies in hospital
Many of the children are thought to have been born to prostitutes
Dozens of people have been sentenced in a French court for their role in a network that smuggled Bulgarian babies to French Roma (Gypsy) couples.

The 11 leaders of the scheme, including nine Bulgarians and two French men, were jailed for between two and six years for "trading in human beings".

Three of them are still on the run and were tried in absentia.

Punishments for 38 "parents" purchasing babies ranged from one year in jail to six-month suspended sentences.

One other received a fine and two others no punishment.

The couples are said to have paid up to $10,000 (5,000) for each child.

Investigators believe that between 2001 and 2005 at least 22 children were bought by the couples, who were unable to adopt under French law.

The mothers - many of them thought to have been Bulgarian prostitutes - were brought to France to give birth.

Five "ringleaders"
Five-to-six years in jail (three are on run)
Six other "organisers"
Two-to-five years
Four "baby purchasers"
Up to one year in jail
34 "baby purchasers"
Suspended sentences

They were promised large sums of money, but once they had handed over their babies they only received a fraction of the sum and were then forced to work as prostitutes or beggars, French officials said.

The babies were initially taken into care when the case emerged, but the purchasing parents were not accused of mistreating their babies.

Despite the case and the sentences handed to the Roma families, many of them are now being allowed to keep the children.

A defence lawyer, David-Olivier Kaminski, said the couples had been forced into a corner because France did not allow couples with roaming lifestyles to adopt children.

"These are French citizens, Gypsies, desperate to have children, who had no hope of meeting these strict adoption criteria," he said.

Bulgarian babies for sale
18 Jul 06 |  Newsnight
Bulgarian 'baby smugglers' held
18 Oct 04 |  Europe
Bulgaria's disturbing baby market
23 Feb 05 |  Crossing Continents

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