Police in Duisburg are investigating a young Syrian couple after their baby's photo was seen on online auction site eBay priced at 5,000 euros. They deny posting the ad in what could be a practical joke gone wrong.
The eBay posting, which was removed within 40 minutes of being placed this Tuesday, was written in broken German. eBay users had raised the alarm and alerted the company.
"A small child, 40 days old and named Maria, for sale," read the tagline, with the next line putting the price at 5,000 euros (roughly $5,500).
This advert prompted police to take the child into care and detain her Syrian parents, a 21-year-old woman and her 28-year-old husband, both refugees, for questioning. Duisburg city police's statement explained that action was taken owing to "suspicion of human trafficking."
Officers searched the family's home on Wednesday evening in search of pertinent evidence, including a computer.
Parents say the ad was posted by someone else
Ramon von der Maat, a police spokesman in Duisburg, told DW that the parents have denied posting the advertisement.
According to the father, his phone had gone missing shortly beforehand, with pictures of their child on it.
Police continue to look into the matter, and have not yet charged anybody, but the parents' testimony has raised the possibility of a practical joke in rather poor taste.
Initial investigations suggest that the ad was posted online using the family's home network, although police noted that friends and family also had access to the IP address.
Calling the case "unprecedented for the city of Duisburg," childcare authorities have said that the baby, in their custody since Thursday, is in good health.
Until this week, at least according to publicly available information, the family had not drawn the attention of authorities.