Organ trafficking is a problem in some former Soviet states
The Azerbaijani government says it is keen to crack down on child traffickers who are believed to take children abroad and sell their organs for profit.
National Security Minister Namiq Abbasov said the authorities were investigating reports that sick children were being taken abroad for medical treatment and adoption and then being used for human transplants.
"Under the guise of adoption, children who are allegedly afflicted by grave diseases are taken out of Azerbaijan, ostensibly for treatment," Mr Abbasov told the country’s ANS television.
"In the course of our investigations, it has come to light that these children are used for organ transplants, but we have no hard evidence," he said.
The results of the investigations would be passed to the Interior Ministry and prosecutors, he said.
Mr Abbasov acknowledged that people trafficking was a problem in Azerbaijan and other states of the former Soviet Union.
Azerbaijan’s ANS TV station has been investigating whether it is possible to take a child abroad from Azerbaijan and use his internal organs for transplantation.
Evil people can achieve what they want without any documents
ANS TV presenter
Its report concluded that "official arbitrariness in this sphere allows unprotected small children to be illegally taken out of the country".
A lawyer told the station that although the adoption process in Azerbaijan was technically free of charge, it was necessary to pay bribes to finalise the process, increasing the likelihood of children falling into the wrong hands and being spirited away illegally.
A 12-year-old boy called Muzaffar told reporters he had come to Baku from an impoverished rural area to earn money and would gladly go abroad with anyone who offered to take him.
"But Muzaffar is unaware that his organs might be taken out and sold. We were the first to inform him of such a likelihood," the presenter said.
An official from a leading international non-governmental organisation, who asked to remain anonymous, said more than 100 children had disappeared in transit between orphanages and hospitals in 2003, blaming it on official corruption.
Orphanages are accused of corruption
The official complained that the authorities were unwilling to disclose information about child disappearances and the adoption issue in general.
According to the UN agency for children, Unicef, about 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide each year in a thriving business worth $10bn, and it is getting worse.
The International Campaign against Child Trafficking (ICACT) points out that children are not only trafficked for their organs and body parts but for a variety of illegal purposes, including sexual exploitation, adoption by childless couples, begging and transporting drugs.
Another related issue in Azerbaijan is the phenomenon of street children, which was unheard of in Soviet times.
After gaining independence, the old system just collapsed and there is no alternative to replace it
Unicef child protection officer Dilara Babayeva
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the social welfare system ceased to operate effectively in Azerbaijan, forcing many children onto the streets and making them vulnerable to exploitation, according to Unicef child protection officer Dilara Babayeva.
"During the Soviet system, there was a specific government plan and specific policy which was directed towards the welfare of each individual," she said. "But unfortunately, after gaining independence, this old system just collapsed and there is no alternative, which could - which should - replace it."