Adoption & Child Trafficking

From Thinking Outside the Boxe’s Sydney Correspondent: The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines human trafficking as:

(a) […] the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs…”

It is indeed interesting to note that despite the fact that this is a global, legally binding agreement, that in the United States the Federal crime of child trafficking does not include baby-buying for the purpose of adoption. This fact, and a lack of regulation, or as David M. Smolin argues, a tendency of agencies to bury their head in the sand, has enabled babies to be stolen or kidnapped and as he puts it “laundered” through the international adoption system.

After a recent hurricane in Haiti it emerged that 33 children had been illegally taken out of the country by members of an American charitable Christian organisation, presumably in order to be adopted. This action, presumably well intentioned, clearly shows the dark heart of international adoption and hints at the Western tendency to look down upon people from underdeveloped nations, as we consider our society, it’s values, culture, political system as infinitely superior to that of under developed and Eastern countries. We would do well to remember that human trafficking only exists because there is a demand for things such as cheap labour, prostitution, children available for adoption, cheap consumer products, and domestic labour. In fact the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that human trafficking enslaves far in excess of 27 million people around the world.

It is perhaps confronting to consider why western families are so keen to adopt children from underdeveloped or third world countries. Perhaps this is why even a critic of the current international adoption system such as David M. Smolin finds it difficult to be more honest when he states,”This ‘better off’ argument is usually not urged in public, as it lies perilously close to controversial notions of cultural or national superiority. In private conversations within and outside the adoption world, however, it is repeatedly whispered, and perhaps accounts for a certain lack of urgency in responding to the problem”. This argument that children from poor disadvantaged nations would enjoy a far better life with a family in a Western country is not, in fact, in any way confined to ‘private conversations’. I would argue that the UN it itself is very openly suggesting this is the case through its actions. I particularly refer to the decision by the UNHCR in 2001 to bestow the honorific title “Goodwill Ambassador” upon actress Angelina Jolie. It is worth noting that this celebrity mother, herself the parent of 3 adopted children (from countries ranging from Cambodia to Ethiopia) has faced difficulties in the adoption process. An unusual situation took place in 2001whereby at the very time the UNHCR was considering bestowing this title on Jolie, an adoption application she had made was under threat because of United States concern regarding child trafficking in Cambodia.

While sitting in our comfortable middle or upper class armchairs Westerners look down upon women in our nation unable for whatever reason to look after their own children who therefore make the decision to give them up for adoption. We often denounce these women for being unable to provide for their child and characterise them as lazy, morally bankrupt, drug addicted, or a combination of all three. At the same time women in other parts of the world are thought of as almost heroic when they give up their child to be adopted by a Westerner who can provide them with the education and cultural values that would be unavailable to them in their country of birth. Such a noble sacrifice to ensure a child has a so much brighter future. This “cause”, that is the adoption of children from disadvantaged nations could perhaps even be viewed as a perverted form of philanthropy. It appears that we do not consider that the foreign aid our Government spends is adequate, or perhaps the problem is we can’t see how it’s spent, or that it’s making a difference. In any case it seems we do really believe that charity begins at home.

Human trafficking is the world’s third most lucrative criminal industry, behind only arms and drugs. David M. Smolin writes that in India, Western agencies provided corrupt Indian agencies with profits of $2000 to $7000 per adoption. There is no doubt that Westerners, in their eagerness to ‘rescue’ third world children are contributing a significant amount of this money and therefore must bear some of the blame for the trafficking of children in poor nations around the world.

If we are to believe that our Western culture, and standard of living is superior to that of these children we adopt from poorer nations (and the fact we are prepared to wage war to bring western style democracy to other countries suggests the answer is ‘yes’), then perhaps we should not feel even slightly uncomfortable as Smolin suggests is the case. Perhaps our own and our Governments’ actions and inactions suggest we believe implicitly at least that trafficking is justified if the child is unharmed in the process and leads a ‘better’ life as a result. In this case we are only left with the moral question as to what lengths are willing to let others go to in order to bring these children into our homes.


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