A Quick Update on the Global Business of Baby-Selling

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.



7 responses to “A Quick Update on the Global Business of Baby-Selling

  1. Julie – the biggest impediment to combating trafficking of children for international adoption would be for the US to redifine what they consider trafficking. Adoption does not fit the description. That allows for the bad guys in the industry if they get caught, to get nothing more than a slap on the wrist and to move on to another agency or start a new one. To me the first step is to create real penalties that include mega jail time.

    As to returning – of course that makes it complicated. But is it really any more complicated than the initial act of adoption where even in China many of the children adopted to other countries have lived the vast majority of their lives with a foster family in a culture they are the norm in, speak the language in, and only know that life. That abupt disruption is considered okay because an adoption is happening. Take the word adoption from the scenario and then it becomes something different? That is where the disconnect comes in to me. BOTH are equally a disruption of what the child currently knows. To me you not only have to look at the current impact on the child but also the impact of what happened to the child when they are mature adults.

    Right now their is a very unusual case involoving a Guatemalen mother and her child who was kidnapped and adopted into the US. That case is even worse because the child was two when she was kidnapped from her yard where she lived with her mother, father and two siblings in 2006 – some sources state that the required dna tests failed in the adoption proceedings and the child was later processed more than a year later as an abandonment case and in Dec 2008 came to the US. What happens now that Guatemala has ordered her birth certificate and passport annuled and the child returned?

    International adoption as it is practiced now is a failure. New countries open up as the prior big country closes due to corruption. Vietnam, Cambodia, Guatemala, Nepal, now Ethiopia is in the midst of something big.

    Changes MUST happen soon – for all the childrens sake.

    • I think it would be a mistake to categorize adoption generally as trafficking. It would diminish our understanding of trafficking as a criminal enterprise and our understanding of adoption. I’m not one who thinks adoption is necessarily problematic but trafficking (to me) is always so. So what I see as necessary is effective safeguards and these could include criminal penalties when adoption becomes trafficking.

      It’s hard to put proper safeguards in place, of cousre, especially in the international context. It isn’t up to the US to police the conduct of Chinese family services authorities and this may be one site of corruption. There are doubtless ways that the US can bring pressure to bear, but in the end, each country will doubtless insist that at some point these become domestic matters. I think some countries have become much more suspicious of their status as baby-exporting nations, and this will doubltess make them more vigilant in their own enforcement.

      There are similarities in the dislocation and severing of relationhships when a child is relocated back to their country of origin and when a child is initially adopted. A lot will depend on the specific circumstances. For how much time did a child live in each setting? Were there consistent caretakers with whomt he child formed an emotional bond? Is it possible for the child to remain indefinitely in the care they were in? What I’m thinking here is if a child is in a collective foster care environment with no consistent caretakers that’s quite a different thing from if a child has been in the care of her parents. The dislocation in being moved from the first setting is lesser and is also pretty much inevitable. Not so the second.

      But just as importantly, one harm has already occured–the child was taken from that intial setting. That experience cannot be erased–it happened. When you contemplate relocation as a remedy you consider inflicting new harm. I’m not saying you won’t decide that it may be appropriate, but it is a cost you are choosing to incur, where as the one in the past is beyond anyone’s choice. It is, as they say, history.

      One approach might be to do an individualized assessment of each particular child and the adults involved and figure out what would best for the child. You could defend such an approach as being child-centered. But adopting such an approach means recognizing that inevitably some judges will determine that leaving the child with the adoptive parents is better in some instances, and so you have to accept that, just as you have to accept that some will order the child returned.

      You could approach it differently, though, and consider the harm done to the original parents primary and order the child returned whether it is better for this specific child or not.

  2. What is everyone on that they can’t figure out how to fix this?Omphaloskepsis. Our big brainiac super-nuclear power governments are sitting around contemplating their navels – we can figure out how to blow each other up but we can’t find a handful of internationally adopted Chinese girls? Betcha they’re sitting in a Chinese restaurants with a white family in Santa Monica, Cambridge, New York, Austin and Portland oh and Palo Alto (My brother’s brother’s adopted Asian Child)

    Take DNA samples from the mothers and fathers whose children were kidnapped and compare their DNA against the DNA of every adopted Chinese girl all over the world until these children get their parents back. The world owes these kidnapped girls the courtesy of helping them find their parents and owes them the courtesy of asking them what they want to do stay or go or something in between and the money should come from all of the participants in the process that allowed it to happen, and I’m sorry the adoptive parties as well because their money greased the skids as it were. Not to say that they knew they were buying a child, but if it walks like a duck….quack. They paid thirty five thousand dollars to adopt an infant from another country because those women don’t do drugs and all those children are foundlings so no woman or man will ever come around to take the child from an adoptive home – its just a bit too good to be true no? Its the lack of proof that blows me away, All those little girls left in the park in basinettes with little notes pinned to them? I’m so sure. My brother’s brother has a Chinese adopted child and my brother has not introduced me to his brother because he’s afraid I’d go off on him. He wrote on Facebook recently how his heart aches for her because she cries for her Chinese mother in anguish every night and he does not know how to ease her pain. Oh and as for those stable married people that adopt children – they divorced a year after they adopted her.

    • I find your certainty that this is a simple problem rather frightening, because it seems to me that it means you’re not even seeing what makes it hard and doubtless you are not alone. But you are right in a way–it wouldn’t be hard really to force everyone to have genetic testing and then match people up–a simple administrative task. It’s a bit totalitarian in my book, but no doubt it could be done. And perhaps makes a point: IF our goal were simply to return to the children to the genetically matched people, then that’s easy. But this, it seems to me, misses two things.

      First, one thing that is hard is figuring out whether returning the kids to the original parents is the right thing to do. I’m not sure why this doesn’t seeem like a hard choice to you. Surely you can see that at least in some cases it will be very hard on the kids involved. You’re sure that in the long run it is always better? I’m not. I imagine it varies a lot. I think your certainty here goes back to your conviction that the genetic link is much more important than any simple social relations–but I still don’t understand where that certainty comes from.

      Second, you have focused on undoing the adoptions that have been wrongfully completed. It seems to me the more difficult part is ensuring that it doesn’t happen again in the future and that this is critical. The easy way to ensure it doesn’t happen is to bar adoption. I’m not willing to do that. I want to have adoption but also have effective controls. That’s hard–especially on a global scale. From my point of view, some (and probably many/most) of the adoptions from China are fine, but some (a small number?) are not fine. How do we weed these out? Or how do we ensure that Chinese agencies weed those out? And if we cannot do that, are we prepared to continue anyway, thinking that the number where we will have face the undoing problem (discussed above) is reasonable given the number of unproblematic adoptions? .

  3. Lets eliminate the idea of biological parents having a right to keep their offspring. Julie you would like that. And then lets eliminate the idea that a woman has a baby has a right to keep that baby. Julie you won’t like that, but its my daydream so I’ll keep going. Let’s eliminate the idea that intended parents have a right to keep the child they commissioned. Lets eliminate the idea that people who adopt have a right to keep the child they adopted. Let’s eradicate the idea that anyone has a right to keep anyone else ever ever ever because people are not property not even itty bitty people. But itty bitty people have to rely on someone to protect them and raise them to adulthood. Who should be legally obligated to do that? Who in this world owes the itty bitty person that duty of protection who owes it to the child to raise them to adulthood?

    I believe that children have the right to be protected and raised by the parents who reproduced to create them. The child inherits traits from both of them and their past and current health as well as the past and current health are of ongoing and continuous importance to the child throughout the course of his or her life. For that reason I also feel that the child has a right to know and be known to his or her immediate relatives as well. Health history is a two way street in terms of importance, If the child develops a problem it can tip the parent off to a problem they did not know they had themselves. It can alert them to have their other children tested or their siblings children. Relatives are relevant to us at least in terms of continuous on going information about their health and our own. Of course it goes much deeper than that in my opinion but at least this is a fact nobody can argue.

    So because the people that create the child are of the most long term ongoing continuous value to the child it is to the child’s benefit to be protected and raised by them rather than someone else who would not have that same advantage. So it really should be that the people who reproduce to create a child have a duty to protect and raise that child to adulthood. Adoption should not legally terminate their parenthood either because they cannot terminate the permanent biological connection they should remain legally obligated to protect the health of their child by maintaining continuous ongoing contact with their child and the people who adopt the child so that the child is not cut off from the rest of their family just because their parents cannot perform the daily task of raising the child to adulthood. The child’s name should not be changed and neither should the birth record. The child is not property and they should have a right to remain the same person despite not being raised by their parents.

    That would help a whole lot and its child centered.

    • I’ll go with your hypothetical and it seems to me that it does unearth the core difference between us. It appears to me that your assertion that it is best for a child to be raised by those who are genetically connected to them is tied to a couple of factors your articulate that go with the genetic link–the shared traits, the medical ramifications, etc. I’m interested both in what is there and what isn’t there. First what is there–the shared traits and the medical ramifcations. It’s clear to me that some traits are directly heritable–hair color, ear lobe configuration, etc. It seem to me pretty weak to say that these sorts of ties ensure the well-being of the child–that she’s raised by someone with the same eyes? I imagine you are assuming a much broader array of traits, some of much deeper importance. But even then, it seems to me so much of what children are–their personalities–don’t seem to be inherited in any obvious way.

      It isn’t that I think these things unimportant. (Though actually, it strikes me that if matching hair color is critical, then you can get there by getting sperm from someone with the right hair color and you’re okay, which seems silly to me.) But then I look at what isn’t on your list–there’s no concern about the social/emotional/psychological relationship between adult and child. Do you assume that those with the genetic link will have the capacity and the commitment to create and nurture these relationships? I fear that isn’t so. There are way too many instances of those with the genetic link showing little commitment to their offspring.

      And so here, I think, is the explanation for why you’d take a child from the only home the child had experienced to move it to the home of the genetic link folks and also why this horrifies me. I value the emotional/social and you do not. You value the genetic and I do not. I suppose we always knew this, but it seems to me a slightly different angle on it.

      I don’t think parents own their chlidren, for what that is worth. I think parent’s–whoever they are–owe obligations to their kids–one’s they cannot just walk away from. (People are free to abandon property.) The state has to protect the parent/child relationship–not necessarily for the benefit of the parent and much as for the benefit of the child. In my view it is bad for chlidren if they are unable to form consistent relationships with those who must care for them. So if anyone could just take any child home from daycare, it’s a bad system. In protecting a parent/child relationship the state isn’t recognizing a property/ownership interest in the child–the parent cannot sell the child (as they could sell property they owned). It’s protecting a relationship that is vital to the well-being of a generally helpless citizen. But of cousre, you do have to figure out when there is a parent/child relationship that merits this treatment and that’s the story of the blog.

  4. Oh and as far as the whole what if the biological parents are not the best people to raise the child, I say your right they are not always the best and if the child is not safe with either one or both tthen protecting them would mean removing the child from their care. But the parent would have to commit a crime a jailable crime there would have to be restraining orders, You can’t just let people off the hook because the mom does not like the guy who got her pregnant. he’s not her dad, its not her world. She should not interfere with what he has to do for his kid. Also nobody else should interfere either like fertility clinics selling sperm or adoption facilitators.

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