Police stand outside a home which provides shelter for pregnant unmarried women run by the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic order founded by Mother Teresa, in Ranchi. Picture: Reuters
New Delhi - A nun and another employee of Mother Teresa's charity in India have been charged with selling a baby and are suspected in the sale of three other infants.

Police arrested Sister Konsalia Balsa and charity worker Anima Indwar on Wednesday after the city's child-welfare committee filed a complaint accusing them of selling a baby for $1 740 (around R23 400) in the northeastern city of Ranchi.

"We are completely shocked by what has happened in our home in Ranchi," a statement from the Missionaries of Charity read. "It should have never happened. It is against our moral convictions. We are carefully looking into the matter."

Police said they were trying to trace three other babies whom they suspect were sold by Balsa and Indwar.

"We don't know how big this is yet," said Kotwali police inspector Shyamanand Mandal, when asked whether the charity's other shelters had been involved in similar activities. "We are investigating."

The boy who was sold was born to an unwed teenage girl, Mandal said. The infant is in the custody of child-protection authorities.

"What these people did - for around 100 000 to 120 000 rupees, they sold the baby to a couple when the baby was less than a month old, sometimes straight from the hospital," he said.

Adoption can be a convoluted and tedious process in India, and there is a huge demand for babies - especially male heirs who can earn for parents in old age. But unwed mothers and babies born out of wedlock face stigma in the socially conservative country. Many turn to charities such as Mother Teresa's for shelter during their pregnancies.

According to police, Balsa and Indwar admitted to selling the babies of the women who came to the shelter.

The Missionaries of Charity was founded in 1950 by Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, known as "Mother Teresa" and canonized a Catholic saint posthumously in 2016.

Although she was famous for giving aid to the poor in India and around the world, her legacy is disputed. Many criticize her organization for its proselytizing in non-Catholic countries and allegedly ill-treating those whom it claimed to help.

In 2016, the Missionaries of Charity announced it would stop all its adoption activities in India in protest of a new law that allows single parents to adopt. The organization's representatives said at the time that the law's definition could include divorcées or single parents, which contradicted its religious beliefs.

Louis Marandi, social-welfare minister in Jharkhand, said the charity may be blacklisted if wrongdoing is proven.

The news has shaken Mother Teresa's organization, which spans 130 countries and has about 4 500 nuns and brothers.

"The whole congregation is shocked, and we are all praying about it," said a nun who has been with the organization for 20 years but spoke on the condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to comment on its behalf. "If anything happened, we have to be sorry."

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