UNDERGROUND BABY SALES THRIVING IN SRI LANKA
Hundreds and maybe thousands of Sri Lankan babies are sold each year to foreign couples through an underground scheme that officials have likened to a "slave trade. "
The island's commissioner of child care, Vinitha Jayasinghe, says her efforts to stop the sale of babies, which often results in legal adoptions, are running into a well-organized network of middlemen.
"We have laws prohibiting slavery. We want to use them against all people involved in the buying and selling of humans," said Mrs. Jayasinghe.
"If this is not a slave trade, what is? "
Mrs. Jayasinghe and other officials say the baby trade involves hotel operators, doctors, lawyers, and corrupt officials who bring in foreign couples, sell them infants, and then arrange legal adoptions.
At least 1,500 babies leave the island each year under such adoptions, she said, and many more are believed sold without any legal means.
"We know many local women carry either their own babies or someone else's, leaving the country for various reasons," Mrs. Jayasinghe said. "They thereafter give the infants to middlemen, who sell the kids to West European couples. "
The transactions usually begin through middlemen abroad, say government officials and sources in the baby trade.
Couples check into Sri Lankan hotels and are presented with infants for inspection; or, they pick out children from "baby farms," where several infants are put on display.
Once a baby is chosen, an adoption can be arranged after a court hearing that takes only a few minutes.
New attention was focused on baby sales in mid-January when police raided a hotel at Wadduwa, 27 miles south of this capital, and found 22 infants apparently ready to be sold. The owner and 20 local women were arrested.
The children, ranging in age from 3 weeks to 6 months, were being cared for by the women, police Inspector S. Sumanadasa said.
"We also found British, Dutch, and German women, all married, feeding the kids with milk or cuddling them," said Sumanadasa.
Police Superintendent Rukman Silva said that when police began taking the babies away, some of the European women burst into tears.
He said it was believed the hotel had sent 600 Sri Lankan infants abroad in the last four years at an average price of $1,000 each.
Other officials, who spoke on condition they not be identified, said babies have been sold for more than $3,000, while mothers giving up the children sometimes get as little as $40.
Mrs. Jayasinghe said the system is difficult to stop because the adoptions themselves are legal, despite the sale of the baby and no investigation of the child's origin or of the prospective parents.
The basis for the baby trade is economic.
Childless couples cannot find babies to adopt in Europe, with its affluence and falling birth rates. But babies are plentiful in Sri Lanka, where the annual per capita income is $360.
Officials say that not only the poor, but also prostitutes and unwed mothers, are easy prey for the baby-sale racket.
One newspaper, the independent Sun, reported that prostitutes were being paid to have sex with European men to produce lighter-skinned babies, considered more attractive to foreign couples.
Police Superintendent Silva also said some of the children found in the raid at the Stamford Cabana Hotel may have been kidnapped. Police have put out an appeal asking for people to identify the youngsters.
Inspector Sumanadasa said the hotel's owner will be charged with running a nursery without a license and with running a brothel. He said some of the women will be charged with prostitution.
Mrs. Jayasinghe said that if the baby trade is going to be stopped, stronger laws will have to be invoked and action will have to be taken against foreign buyers of the children.
"If there are no buyers, there will be no sellers in this whole disgraceful business," she said.
AP photo - Officials say these infants and women are part of an international "baby farm" in Colombo, Sri Lanka.