Baby-trade gangs face global curbs
In Moscow last year, Laura Binkley, a Canadian aged 36 who was employed by an unlicensed US adoption firm, the Adam Children's Fund International, was murdered for the takings of her safe. In the safe was between $2,000 ( pounds 1,300), according to her employers, and $40,000, according to those who speculate that she was murdered to eliminate unwelcome competition in the private-adoption business.
The international adoption trade is a booming if uncertain industry that provides potential for profit, misery and happiness for middlemen, mothers andadopting parents. Next month a new international treaty on adoption comes into effect in many of the countries where the worst abuses occur. There were 8,195 babies taken for adoption to the US last year and an unknown number to Britain, where low official figures mask what adoption specialists say are numerous unofficial adoptions carried out by private agents.
For thousands of childless couples in Western Europe and North America, desperate for a child, the payment of huge fees to agents and lawyers, as well as bribes to officials, is part of the process of adopting from abroad.
Couples often find themselves in a legal twilight zone, in which they make journeys to foreign countries on the strength of photographs of children in orphanages.
On arrival, one of the first things they must do is to make under-the- table payments to the "baby-broker", the child's natural mother and other intermediaries, before the child can be secured.
Italy and France are notoriously lax in their supervision of adoption agents and these countries are used increasingly as staging-posts for getting children into the European Union, often from Eastern Europe.
The new treaty is expected to drive most unlicensed baby-traffickers out of business and speed up the process of obtaining legal international adoptions. Britain and the 65 other nations that signed the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption on 28 May 1993 are committed to creating a central authority to supervise adoptions in each country.
Recently ratified by Romania, Mexico and Sri Lanka, the convention will stop excessive profits being made by individuals or agencies. More importantly, because the adopting parents will be forbidden to meet the natural mother before the adoption papers have been signed, the opportunity to pay bribes to the mother should be removed as well.
In Britain, the Department of Health will have to approve adoption agencies, so that countries with children to adopt will work only with approved agencies.
The treaty should prevent the kind of baby-trafficking scandals that occur with depressing frequency in Eastern Europe. A British couple, Adrian and Bernadette Mooney, arrested while smuggling a baby from Romania, paid a gang of child-traffickers to obtain the child. A criminal investigation in Croatia of a British adoption specialist, John Davies, also involves baby-trafficking. Denounced by a social worker who he says demanded a bribe, he is accused of coercing mothers to give up newborn infants for adoption to Canada and the US.
Mr Davies represents Adam Children's Fund International in Eastern Europe and he has close links with a recently formed British charity, the Solomon Children's Foundation. He describes himself as a "facilitator" who saves unborn children from abortion on the one hand and answers the prayers of childless US and Canadian families on the other, by organising adoptions at $20,000 a time.
The Solomon Children's Foundation employs 17 people in Romania, Hungary, Croatia and Albania. They scour birth-control clinics in nine Eastern European countries, looking for refugee women, especially Muslims who have been raped, or others with unwanted pregnancies. Mr Davies's link to the Adam Children's Fund International is via another company, the Solomon Corporation, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands.
The large sums of money that Western couples are prepared to pay, especially if they can get a very young child, have drawn criminal gangs into the adoption trade in Russia, Latin America and parts of South-East Asia, according to officials who monitor the trade. In Russia, violence and extortion are now hallmarks of the sub rosa baby-trafficking trade, with reports of gangs fighting over territory and trying to keep Western adoption agencies from gaining a foothold.
Scandals over baby-trafficking in Romania, Russia and other countries have led to clampdowns that have effectively halted the removal of healthy children for adoption abroad.
But strict new laws are easily circumvented by the "baby-brokers", who bribe court officials, social workers and orphanage directors to produce documents certifying that normal children are impaired or retarded, thus making them eligible for adoption.