Two Bulgarian men were jailed on Friday for 10 years and a woman for six years for trafficking two pregnant women to sell their babies in neighbouring Greece.
The sentences issued by a court in the Black Sea city of Burgas were among the heaviest for a crime that has become common in the region over recent years but has been tough to prove and punish, prosecutors said.
The practice consists of recruiting poor pregnant women, usually from the Roma minority, and transferring them to Greece to give birth and sell their baby to couples there, who are ready to pay up to 15,000 euros ($16,300) for a baby boy.
Any payment is considered illegal, but the Greek legal system does not help solving the problem as it allows the mother to simply sign her child away in front of a notary, investigators say.
The mothers usually get a fraction of the money with the bigger chunk pocketed by the traffickers.
Two men, aged 47 and 50, from the small town of Kameno near Burgas were jailed for 10 years for recruiting two pregnant women from a nearby village and accommodating them in flats in Greece with a view to selling their babies when they were born.
The wife of one of the men was also jailed for six years and another accomplice received a three-year suspended sentence.
The crimes occurred in the years between 2008 to 2010.
During a visit to the region of Burgas and Kameno in 2016, AFP collected testimony from local officials and ordinary people about a shady trade that feeds on endemic poverty of the local Roma.
Some of the mothers were said to have sold more than one baby.