Once again I must apologize for a break in the action–travel again. I know there are many comments I have not responded to and I’ll get there. And I’m not done with that thread, either. I ask for your patience.
This was on the front page of New York Times yesterday. It’s about child trafficking in China. Child trafficking is essentially selling babies–a topic that seems to arise with disturbing regularity. Babies were taken from Chinese families by family planning officials and sold for money on what is described as “a lucrative black market.” This is one more instance of the powerful abusing those with less power.
I cannot imagine anyone defends the practices described here. There’s no question that no matter how you assess parentage, these are cases where children were taken from their parents. But the fact that we can all readily agree about the wrongness of the conduct described doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to say. And here I will offer two observations.
First, as is often but not always the case, there seems to be a global aspect to this episode of baby-trafficking. Some babies were taken and then sold for international adoption. So I have to wonder, is it fair to say that what seems to be a rise in baby-trafficking is a problematic aspect of globalization and international adoption?
On the one hand, other instances of baby-trafficking (Spain and Argentina, say) do not seem to have a global aspect–and in China, too, some of the traffic is within the country. But at the same time it seems that international adoptions can offer a tempting market. People from richer countries expect to pay substantial sums connected with international adoption. What happens to the money isn’t always fully understood or disclosed. The host country adoption process can be much more opaque, shielded from scrutiny adoptions in the US might well receive. And so I think that international adoption–or the globalization of adoption–probably does increase baby-selling as it offers additional avenues for profitable operations.
That said, it doesn’t lead me to conclude that international adoption is always a bad idea. But it sure does suggest that some systematic scrutiny and perhaps control is needed.
The second point has to do with remedies, a subject that has come up in the recent discussion of adoption in Utah, too. If you read towards the latter part of the article it seems possible (likely?) that some of the stolen children ended up adopted in the US.
The story particularly mentions six girls who were adopted in 2006. That’s five years ago–so for five years these girls have lived with their American families. Now let’s suppose those girls were stolen from their families in China. What do we do about that now?
In the Utah discussion there was a lot of attention focussed on what the adoptive parents knew about the integrity of the process. I don’t think there is any allegation here that the adoptive parents knew anything was amiss. Chinese girls have been routinely adopted after being abandoned due to the one-child policy. I have no reason to imagine that the parents here thought that anything different was at work in their cases, so I’m going to assume that the adoptive parents are blameless.
There is no perfect solution here–no way to roll back the clock and return these children to their parents and make things be as they should have been. If you take thee girls from the homes they know now and relocate them to rural China, does anyone doubt it will be hard for them as well as for the adoptive parents in the US? But if you leave them where they are, there is hardship, too, not only for the girls but for their parents in China.
You can see (imperfect) middle ground–that the girls can have relationships with both sets of adults perhaps? But it’s all fairly unsatisfactory because the distance between the two households where the girls might live makes the idea of anything like shared custody impossible.
I suppose my point here is that being able to say with certainty that something that happened was wrong doesn’t always mean it will be easy or even possible to fix it. Should those who stole the babies be punished? That’s a no-brainer–of course they should. But while that might gratify some need for vengeance and while it might deter people in the future, it doesn’t tell us what to do with these kids.