Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Baby Trade is Not a Crime?

Map created by Claire Pavlik Purgus for the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism Brandeis University, Waltham, MA Click here for the interactive map

In a new investigative article "The Lie We Love," published in Foreign Policy's November/December 2008 issue, E.J. Graff, associate director and senior researcher at the Schuster Institute writes about how the story of abandoned orphans in developing countries has become largely fiction. The article exposes the myth of a world orphan crisis— where we are told that millions of children are waiting to be rescued from lives of abandonment and abuse. The article reveals that the large amounts of Western money offered for healthy “adoptable” infants and toddlers are inducing the baby trade and trafficking in poor and corrupt countries. Foreign Policy’s website has exclusive rights to the article until January, and you can read it here. After January, it will be available in full at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. A few excerpts below:

[…] Many of the infants and toddlers being adopted by Western parents today are not orphans at all. Yes, hundreds of thousands of children around the world do need loving homes. But more often than not, the neediest children are sick, disabled, traumatized, or older than 5. They are not the healthy babies that, quite understandably, most Westerners hope to adopt. There are simply not enough healthy, adoptable infants to meet Western demand—and there’s too much Western money in search of children. As a result, many international adoption agencies work not to find homes for needy children but to find children for Western homes.

Since the mid-1990s, the number of international adoptions each year has nearly doubled, from 22,200 in 1995 to just under 40,000 in 2006. At its peak, in 2004, more than 45,000 children from developing countries were adopted by foreigners. Americans bring home more of these children than any other nationality—more than half the global total in recent years.

You can check out the official stats from the State Department’s newly rolled out adoption website here.

On the Exporters of Children

"One such country has been Guatemala, which in 2006 and 2007 was the No. 2 exporter of children to the United States. Between 1997 and 2006, the number of Guatemalan children adopted by Americans more than quadrupled, to more than 4,500 annually. Incredibly, in 2006, American parents adopted one of every 110 Guatemalan children born. In 2007, nearly 9 out of 10 children adopted were less than a year old; almost half were younger than 6 months old. “Guatemala is a perfect case study of how international adoption has become a demand-driven business,” says Kelley McCreery Bunkers, a former consultant with UNICEF Guatemala. The country’s adoption process was “an industry developed to meet the needs of adoptive families in developed countries, specifically the United States.”

On Mothers Left Behind

"Consider the case of Ana Escobar, a young Guatemalan woman who in March 2007 reported to police that armed men had locked her in a closet in her family’s shoe store and stolen her infant. After a 14-month search, Escobar found her daughter in pre-adoption foster care, just weeks before the girl was to be adopted by a couple from Indiana. DNA testing showed the toddler to be Escobar’s child. In a similar case from 2006, Raquel Par, another Guatemalan woman, reported being drugged while waiting for a bus in Guatemala City, waking to find her year-old baby missing. Three months later, Par learned her daughter had been adopted by an American couple."

On Barter and Trade

"In Vietnam, for instance, a finder’s fee for a single child can easily dwarf a nurse’s $50-a-month salary. Some nurses and doctors coerce birth mothers into giving up their children by offering them a choice: pay outrageously inflated hospital bills or relinquish their newborns. Illiterate new mothers are made to sign documents they can’t read. In August 2008, the U.S. State Department released a warning that birth certificates issued by Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City—which in 2007 had reported 200 births a day, and an average of three abandoned babies per 100 births—were “unreliable.” Most of the hospital’s “abandoned” babies were sent to the city’s Tam Binh orphanage, from which many Westerners have adopted. (Tu Du Hospital is where Angelina Jolie’s Vietnamese-born son was reportedly abandoned one month after his birth; he was at Tam Binh when she adopted him.) According to Linh Song, executive director of Ethica, an American nonprofit devoted to promoting ethical adoption, a provincial hospital’s chief obstetrician told her in 2007 “that he provided 10 ethnic minority infants to [an] orphanage [for adoption] in return for an incubator.”

We have written previously about the Vietnam Adoption here. Graff’s article proposes ways on how to correct the process. One calls for putting a lid on fees:

Per-child fees could be outlawed. Payments could be capped to cover only legitimate costs such as medical care, food, and clothing for the children. And crucially, fees must be kept proportionate with the local economies. “Unless you control the money, you won’t control the corruption,” says Thomas DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, which represents more than 200 international adoption organizations. “If we have the greatest laws and the greatest regulations but are still sending $20,000 anywhere—well, you can bypass any system with enough cash.”

Basic economics at play here; while the demand is there, the market finds a way. So the first step is to help educate prospective adoptive parents. This is a very emotional matter - I understand, but just because we could, does it always mean we should? Perhaps the most disturbing part of this report is what a USG agent says about the baby trade: “You can get away with buying babies around the world as a United States citizen,” says Richard Cross, a senior special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who investigated Galindo (a former hula dancer who reportedly made millions off Cambodian babies and toddlers through adoption fees). “It’s not a crime.”

Related Posts: Adoptions in Vietnam – Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

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Thirteen said...

Another frightening story on this subject, about Nigerian babies being bred for sale:


DS said...

Thanks for the link Thirteen. This is a scary trend. The young boys are recruited to fight an endless war in some places, and now the girls are rounded up and placed in "baby farms."