Children Of the World For Sale

Where end of the line is for some


December 16, 1987

Amsterdam - Along the seamy side streets of the Zeedijk, Amsterdam's notorious red-light district, money buys anything from a marijuana joint to a full-length pornographic video starring 10-year-old children.

"Everything is possible here," boasts a sex shop owner, explaining that the illegality of child porn does not deter its sale alongside adult movies. This, he says, is largely the result of police apathy and the roaring trade in sex tourism that it attracts.

"The presence of children of both sexes ready to satisfy the sexual appetites of organized tourist groups is very often an additional attraction," says Dutch Labor parliment member Piet Stoffelen. His recent report on the international trade in children links adoption, prostitution, pornography and slavery to the traffic in children from developing countries to the United States and Europe.

His report, based on the findings of Interpol, the Anti-Slavery Society, the International Labor Organization, various U.N.groups, adoption agencies and local newspaper reports, reveals that some governments in Latin America and Southeast Asia condone the illegal child trade.

"Their cash-strapped economies and the need for foreign currency often drive developing countries to become embroiled in international networks of intrigue surrounding child traffic abroad," Stoffelen says.

Adoptions for profit in Guatemala resulted in the export of 166 children between October 1981 and March 1986. Of these, 79 went to the United States, 27 to Belgium, 16 to Italy, 13 to Canada, 12 to Norway, eight to Sweden, six to West Germany and five to France. In February 1987, Guatemalan police discovered a nursery of 14 babies who had been sold before birth. Others were snatched by gangs of cut-throat dealers who got $50 each. The nursery owner, meanwhile, received $20,000 for each exported child.

The Horror Stories

Similar horror stories are reported from El Salvador, which exports hundreds of babies to the United States and Europe, especially Belgium, West Germany and France. Baby hunters are scavenging in villages, refugee camps and the slum quarters of towns. According to official Salvadoran information: "The economic demand for children for adoption causes not only illegal trade and fraud, but also the counterfeiting of documents and the abduction of children."

Stoffelen says, "The adoptable child is, bluntly speaking, a commercial object commanding five-figure prices. In such circumstances, the interests of the children are not even of secondary consideration. The profit motive leads to many parents selling their kids for adoption. Pregnant mothers are persuaded to sign away their future babies in exchange for a few weeks' food and shelter in the immediate prenatal period."

The report paints a similarly dismal picture of the sexual exploitation of children. Studies by a French children's organization estimated that there are about 5,000 boys and 3,000 girls working as prostitutes in Paris. About 300,000 boys do so in the United States and - while officially classified as runaways - a proportion of the 15,000 juveniles reported missing in Britain each year become prostitutes. Part of the reason is that the prices for sex with children are up to five times higher than the adult rate.

Quoting a conference of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the Stoffelen report notes that the prostitutes most in demand in Latin America are between the ages of 10 and 14: "Depending on her physique and the services which she is able to provide, a girl of 12 can earn as much as $500 a month, which is more than 10 times the amount an adult can earn by working all day long in a factory. Once a girl of 12 or 13 has earned so much money, there is little hope that she will give up prostitution . . . Over the years the prostitution of minors has become an industry, one from which many families make their entire living."

A similar scenario emerges for Hong Kong and Bangkok, where girl children are handed over for the equivalent of a few U.S. dollars to a pimp and soon find themselves locked into prostitution. Macao girls bought for $100 to $200 are worth 40 times as much on reaching the United States.

Despite the paucity of direct police evidence that children from developing countries, in particular, are sold in Europe and the United States for the explicit purpose of prostitution and pornography, Stoffelen says local newspaper reports suggest this is quite common. "Children are often bought from desperate, impoverished parents by false adopters who offer a better life abroad. They are also kidnapped and sold to middlemen who ship them abroad."

A typical report is that in which a Bolivian lawyer was accused of having paid kidnappers $40 for a boy whom he sold to a Belgian couple for $10,000. Such cases occur frequently, the report suggests; it claims many adoption rings and aid agencies operate as covers for the traffic. Occasionally this involves professionals - like the doctor who informed new mothers that their babies were stillborn while he was selling them to an adoption racket.

Disguised traffic involves the hiring of women or girls to work away from home in the entertainment industry as dancers, cabaret artists and bartenders. On comming into contact with prostitutes and pimps they often get involved themselves. Others are forced into prostitution to repay debts to the employment agency which paid their travel from developing countries and found them jobs in the United States and Europe. As strangers in a foreign land they seldom know their rights or to whom the y can turn.

Prostitution in West

Others are hired explicitly for prostitution in the West. According to Interpol sources, they are supplied along recognized routes - sometimes secretly, sometimes through established covers. "Few countries, with the possible exception of some with planned economies, are free of the international traffic," Stoffelen says.

"But it is not confined simply to a flow from the less developed to the more developed countries. It would be more accurate to say that the movement involves the traffic of poor women toward rich men, in all directions."

In any event, the flow is aided and abetted by the international "escort" agencies operating not merely in European cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Hamburg, Paris, Marseilles and New York, but also in Bombay, Macao, Singapore and Mexico City. Local contact bureaus arrange meetings in these countries, while inter-country contacts are made through international "marriage travel agencies."

Menger's Travels, an agency operating in West Germany, advertised the delights of "gentle, tender and faithful" girls from Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines, until it was exposed. It guaranteed marriage within a year for German clients.

Clients of another agency offering similar services, the German Interpart Company, chose women from a catalog of photographs and reputedly paid the bureau $5,000 for a return ticket to Bangkok plus accommodation in a hotel, in order to visit their chosen partners. If a marriage were arranged, a further sum had to be paid to the company.

The report says that the kind of organized child prostitution usually associated with some urban areas of Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, also exists in Latin America, especially in Brazil and Peru. African tourist resorts - such as Hammamet, Djerba, Abidjan and Dakar - exploit young African boys as shamelessly as their Thai counterparts treat young masseuses.

And a recent report by Terre des Hommes has highlighted the prostitution of small boys in Sri Lanka, where about 2,000 work in the capital, Colombo. "Pimps and procurers play the most important role in supplying young girls to the customers, by providing false identities for them," Stoffelen says. "For false identities to function, official bureaucracy and police authorities must collaborate at some stage with pimps."

Market for Pornography

The market for video pornography with children is also thought to function with at least the knowledge of many government officials. Even in the Netherlands, where controls on the abuse of Dutch children may be expected to be tighter, a recent scandal involving children used for pornography in the staunchly Calvinist village of Oude Pekala suggested local knowledge. The problem is also growing in Third World oil-producing countries, which have taken a leaf out of Amsterdam's homosexual guides, which contain addresses, hotels, rates, local agents and the allowable legal limits.

Other forms of child trade mentioned in the report include the purchase of children aged 10-15 from gypsy families in the South Serbia, Macedonia and Kosova areas of South Yugoslavia for about $30, for sale to gangs in Italy for about $7,500. After being taught the skills of theft and prostitution, the children earn many times their price. Those refusing to work are beaten, or chained for days without food or drink.

"There are so many varieties of child trade that a simple solution does not exist," Stoffelen says. "If one really wants to solve the problems involved there must be better and more development aid, improvement of education, and policies to eradicate social and economic misery in specific areas and towns. Poverty is no doubt the most important cause of the problem."

His report suggests the trade can be curbed, however, through new laws and tighter policing of existing legislation. These recommendations are under consideration by the 21-nation Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

"It's a long road ahead, but we must take it," Stoffelen says. "In a free market economy, where price determines virtually everything, it is inevitable that trade of this sort flourishes. But that should not deter our efforts to legislate against one of the most undesirable forms of trade known to man."

This article first appeared in London-based South Magazine


Has anything really changed?

Another old article I found, which I wanted to present to show things were just as bad more than twenty years ago. Despite conventions, children are still being sold for international adoption, prostitution, pornography.

I will do my best to lift the orginal report, which still must be in the bottom drawer of someones desk.

Child Trade in the United States

 "The adoptable child is, bluntly speaking, a commercial object commanding five-figure prices. In such circumstances, the interests of the children are not even of secondary consideration. The profit motive leads to many parents selling their kids for adoption. Pregnant mothers are persuaded to sign away their future babies in exchange for a few weeks' food and shelter in the immediate prenatal period."

Strange how the first names that came to my mind were not "El Salvador" or "Guatemala".  Instead my mind immediately went to "Bethany" and "Gladney", and all the other adoption agencies that promote the caring for a pregnant woman until she signs her parental-rights away.


The powers that be

Guatemala may close its borders for the umpteenth time or may stop international adoption altogether. El Salvador may do quite the same, but the old institutes such as the ones you mention will stay in business. In fact they may even expand their business. After all it usualy are the smaller agencies that cease to exist, while the big ones in the long run only grow, both in numbers and in political influence.

There is a lot of focus on sending countries, with websites reporting about Vietnam, others about China, Russia, Ukraine or Guatemala, but the real players in international adoption are of course the major agencies in the USA and Europe. Countries close and reopen, traffickers come and go, corrupt lawyers/facilitators may end up in jail, but Holt, Gladney, Bethany and the like are still there. Those organizations are too smart to ever get caught. They themselves can never be accused of illegal practices. That way they survive whatever happens.

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