Crisis In Trafficking Iraqi Children Grows

Posted by:  David S. Morgan
April 6, 2009 / CBS News
Child trafficking, including the abduction and sale of children, is a growing crisis in Iraq, with officials and aid agencies claiming scores of young people, including babies, are sold both internally and outside of the country. 

The Guardian, in an article written by Afif Sarhan, reports Monday that criminal gangs are taking advantage of poor families while profiting from the cheap cost of buying infants (prices of children range from $300 to $5,900). The paper also says a broken and corrupt bureaucracy, weak law enforcement and lack of border security make it easier for such trafficking to operate.

Aid agencies and police say they believe the number of stolen children has increased since 2005 by a third, to at least 150 a year.

The Guardian quotes one senior police officer saying at least 15 Iraqi children are sold every month — some for adoption, others for sexual abuse. At least a dozen gangs operating in Iraq use intermediaries pretending to work for non-governmental organizations who prepare paperwork necessary to help transport the child out of the country.

"When those children come to the airport or the border, everything looks correct and it is hard for us to keep them inside the country without significant evidence that the child is being trafficked," Iraqi police Colonel Firaz Abdallah said.

One dealer told the Guardian that trafficking children from Iraq was cheaper and easier than from other countries, in part because underpaid government employees are willing to help falsify documents.

The trafficker also described his modus operandi: "Before we try to negotiate with any family we study their living conditions, their debts, the goods they own, and when we feel that the relatives are suffering with unemployment and cannot feed their children, we make our approach that in most of the time is welcomed, as we are seen as aid workers," he said.

"During the period of investigations, we present ourselves as employees of a local NGO and offer some food and clothes. After we get their trust, we make our offer that varies according to what we have found out. If the family is really poor they can accept very low deals but sometimes with more literate ones, prices are higher."

The dealer said families sometimes request they take children from one to four years of age, but added, "We prefer babies."

You can read Afif Sarhan's complete Guardian article here.

Where do they go?

I wonder where these children are being adopted? Looking at the statistics the only western country effectively adopting from Iraq is Sweden and even there the numbers are pretty low. It could be France adopts children from Iraq, because their published statistics only show countries where they receive more than 50 of. So if not more than 49 children are adopted from Iraq by France, the statistics will not show that.

Likely the adoptions don't take place in Western countries. As much as we know about adoptions in Europe, Canada, Australia and the US, so little do we know about adoptions in Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong to name just a few places. When talking about child trafficking in the context of intercountry adoption, we usually asume the western world to be the receiver, but that is turning a blind eye to several affluent areas in the world that adopt internationally as well. In the first place there are many expats living all over the globe, a group that socio-economically very well fits the profile of adoptive families. Then of course there are affluent people coming from and living in a non-western country that can afford the fees required to adopt internationally.

I wonder how big intercountry adoption to non-western countries actually is. Most statistics I have seen so far relate to western countries and are based on the number of children received. There are few statistics based on children sent and those that do differ significantly from the statistics compiled of the western countries.

Every estimate for the size of intercountry adoption world wide is based on the assumption the received number of children in western countries makes up the entire market. Yet there is enough anecdotal evidence of diplomats and military personal stationed all of the worlda, dopting children, to conclude that adoption by Europeans and Americans, does not necessarily have to take place under European or American jurisdiction. Just add to that the upper and middle class of some non-western countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, United Arab Emirats, Kuwait and it becomes evident that intercountry adoption is bigger than usually is assumed. Given the fact that some of these countries are easily even laxer in their regulation than countries in the western world, it's not so difficult to imagine that a part of the trafficked children end up being adopted in exactly those types of countries.

Given the fact that so few statistics supplying countries adopt from Iraq it is most likely that indeed they are being trafficked to non-western countries, a phenomenon that has slipped almost everyones attention, I am afraid.

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