Child trafficking and laundering

Child Laundering As Exploitation

From: Child Laundering As Exploitation: Applying Anti-Trafficking Norms to Intercountry Adoption Under the Coming Hague Regime

As the United States government continues its slow and long-delayed march toward ratification and implementation of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, the goals and rationale of that process remain obscure. The preamble to the Hague Convention indicates that the signatory nations are: Convinced of the necessity to take measures to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children.

The substantive provisions of the Treaty reaffirm these concerns by stating that the objects of the Convention are:

  1. to establish safeguards to ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights as recognized in international law;
  2. to establish a system of co-operation amongst Contracting States to ensure that those safeguards are respected and thereby prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children;
  3. to secure the recognition in Contracting States of adoptions made in accordance with the Convention.

The Hague Convention's concern that adoptions not subvert the best interests and rights of children through the illicit practices of abducting, selling, and trafficking in children has found much resistance in the United States. The United States State Department, poised to play the key role under the treaty as the Central Authority overseeing intercountry adoption, has declared that buying children for adoption is not child trafficking, since children are not exploited by such practices. Prominent advocates of intercountry adoption perceive that buying or abducting children is so rare as to be virtually irrelevant, and hence that regulations aimed at eliminating such practices would needlessly slow adoptions, doing more harm than good. Although not often stated openly, many in the adoption community perceive little harm in providing economic incentives for birth parents to place children for adoption, based on the viewpoint that the children anyway will be better off in a developed Western society. Thus, on the eve of Hague implementation, the combined voices of government, adoptive parents, and adoption agencies remain skeptical of the central premises and purposes of the Hague Convention.

The central matter of dispute is whether the evils against which the Hague Convention is aimed are harmful. This question of harm breaks down into two major issues:

  1. What is the incidence of practices such as abduction and child selling in the intercountry adoption system? 
  2. Whether such practices, even when they occur, are in fact significantly harmful?

This author's prior article, Child Laundering, provided evidence that buying and abducting children for purposes of intercountry adoption was a serious and recurrent problem within the intercountry adoption system. Further, the article identified child laundering as the characteristic form of such illicit behaviors, and one in which the intercountry adoption system itself provided the motivation and means for kidnapping and buying children. Child laundering characteristically involves obtaining children illicitly through purchase or abduction, falsifying the child's paperwork to hide both the illicit conduct and the child's history and origins, and then processing the child through the intercountry adoption system as an orphan and then adoptee. Child Laundering gathered evidence indicating that a significant percentage of children from some sending countries, and a significant number of children overall, had been impacted by such practices.

Even those who accept the evidence of substantial child laundering within the intercountry adoption system may doubt that such conduct causes substantial harm. This article therefore concentrates on the question of whether abducting, buying, or selling children for purposes of adoption is harmful. The positive perspectives on adoption in the culture of the United States, both within and beyond the adoption community, makes it difficult for many to perceive that adoption could be harmful. The adoption myth in which virtuous adoptive parents bond with needy and loving orphans makes it difficult to imagine that adoption could harm a child. The virtually absence of the voices of birth families, particularly in intercountry adoption, makes it difficult for readers to take seriously harms against the birth family. Contemplating adoption as potentially harmful therefore requires a re-visioning of adoption, and hence is in part an act of imagination. This article employs narratives to help the reader come to grips with the counter-cultural notion that adoption could harm or exploit children and families. At the same time, the article employs more conventional forms of argument on this delicate subject.

This question of whether adoption can be a harm bears upon the legal question of whether the abduction, purchase, or sale of a child for purposes of adoption is a form of child trafficking. Legally speaking, the definition of child trafficking sometimes requires exploitation.ix This article supports the implicit claim of the Hague Convention, that buying or selling children for purposes of adoption is a form of child trafficking. The article therefore seeks to explain how even adoption into a loving adoptive family can be a form of exploitation where the childs path into that family involves abduction or sale.

Implementation of the Hague Convention will remain unsuccessful until and unless those involved embrace the fundamental goals of the Convention, particularly the goal of preventing the abduction and sale of children for purposes of adoption. Although few would advocate for child abduction or child selling, the purported support for abolishing those practices dissipates as soon as any kind of cost, effort, or sacrifice is involved. Viewing child selling and abduction for adoption as a kind of victimless crime, technical regulatory breach, or mere malum prohibitum, undermines support for the Convention. To many, the Hague Convention is a regulatory nuisance that slows the heroic work of rescuing children through adoption. Successful implementation of the Hague Convention will require a shared understanding that the evils it is designed to combatBprincipally abduction, purchase, and sale of children for adoption are profoundly exploitative and harmful to children and families.

Child Laundering

From: Child Laundering: How the Intercountry Adoption System Legitimizes and Incentivizes the Practices of Buying, Trafficking, Kidnapping, and Stealing Children

The term “child laundering” expresses the claim that the current intercountry adoption system frequently takes children illegally from birth parents, and then uses the official processes of the adoption and legal systems to “launder” them as “legally” adopted children. Thus, the adoption system treats children in a manner analogous to a criminal organization engaged in money laundering, which obtains funds illegally but then “launders” them through a legitimate business.

The article title further claims that the adoption system both legitimizes and incentivizes stealing, kidnaping, trafficking, and buying children. The title does not claim that the adoption system explicitly authorizes these pernicious practices, but rather claims that the adoption and legal systems create incentives to engage in these destructive practices. In addition, the legal rules and processes associated with adoption are clearly inadequate to prevent these illicit practices from becoming a significant part of the intercountry adoption system. Indeed, the legal rules of the adoption system are systematically used to “launder” or legitimize these practices, by processing as “orphans,” and then adoptees, infants and children who were stolen, bought, or kidnaped from their birth families.

The claims made by this article are necessarily difficult to establish, given the nature of the conduct in question. Those who traffic, buy, or steal children for processing through the adoption system do not advertise their illicit activities. Moreover, most within the adoption system, including adoption agencies, adoptive parents, and sometimes even adoptees, have motivations for minimizing or ignoring evidence of such conduct.

Nonetheless, child laundering within the intercountry adoption system is becoming increasingly apparent, and the patterns are clear for those with eyes willing to see. Hence, this article will seek to demonstrate, through evidence, analysis, and the citation of a wide variety of sources, the widespread existence of child laundering.

The implications of child laundering for the intercountry adoption system are grave. Other forms of corruption within the intercountry adoption system, such as bribery of government officials to facilitate the speedy adoption of a true orphan or extra payoffs to an orphanage to secure a ready supply of orphans, could be viewed by some as necessary or peripheral evils toward a greater good. The good of providing orphans with families could be viewed as justifying a broad variety of otherwise questionable acts. However, child laundering needlessly and illicitly makes children in intact families into paper orphans, by using illegal means to separate them from their families. In such cases there is no countervailing good to justify the egregious harm of breaking the original child-birth family relationship. Child laundering reduces the humanitarian rationale for intercountry adoption into a cruel façade or pretext. Stripped of all humanitarian justification, intercountry adoption is a commercialized and corrupt system driven by the demand of rich Western adults for children. Thus, if child laundering is present to a significant degree within the intercountry adoption system, as this article claims, then the ethical and legal legitimacy of intercountry adoption is threatened.

There are several possible responses to this threat. A common response is to ignore or minimize the incidence of child buying, kidnaping, and trafficking within the intercountry adoption system.2 Others may concede the existence of the problem, yet view even a large amount of child laundering within the intercountry adoption system as unfortunate “collateral damage” which mars but does not undermine the system’s humanitarian results. Thus, if at least the majority of international adoptees were “true orphans,” then some might justify the system even where a substantial minority were not; the system would produce more good than harm. Some might go so far as to argue that even the laundered children are “better off” living in the affluent West, apart from the economic, educational, cultural, and gender limitations that would have hindered their development in their families of origin.3 This “better off” argument is usually not urged in public, as it lies perilously close to controversial notions of cultural or national superiority. In private conversations within and outside the adoption world, however, it is repeatedly whispered, and perhaps accounts for a certain lack of urgency in responding to the problem. This article argues that all of these responses to the “threat” of child laundering in the intercountry adoption system amount to either unproductive hiding of heads in the sand, or unnecessary and counterproductive rationalization of illicit conduct. The point is neither to justify nor excuse the intercountry adoption system as it is, but to reform it. There is no need to make a tragic choice between shutting down or continuing a flawed system, at least not until serious efforts have been made to reform the system. A family living in a filthy house does not face a “tragic” choice between homelessness or substandard housing, but rather faces the practical necessity of a clean-up. In the same way, it is time to “clean up” the intercountry adoption system.

Intercountry Adoption as Child Trafficking

From: Intercountry Adoption as Child Trafficking

When is intercountry adoption a form of child trafficking? The purpose of this Article is to attempt to answer this question, particularly from the perspective of international law. As it turns out, the answer is surprisingly obscure. Thus, a second purpose of this Article is to explain why a question so central to the ethical and legal legitimacy of intercountry adoption is so difficult to answer.

Part I of this Article explores some of the ideological and ethical dilemmas that initially make it difficult to distinguish intercountry adoption from child trafficking, and argues that an exploration of legal standards may represent a way out of the ideological impasse. Part II explores in some detail the question of when abusive adoption practices constitute illicit child trafficking under international law. Part II.A discusses the development of the international law of trafficking from its roots in anti-slavery conventions. It is particularly significant that the law has often refused to define the mere sale of a person as a form of trafficking; instead, the law has defined illicit trafficking to require some form of exploitation beyond sale, such as enslavement, sexual exploitation, or exploitative labor. Part II.B discusses contemporary international law documents which specifically address abusive adoption practices as a form of trafficking. The recent movement of international law to address abusive adoption practices as a form of illicit traffic or child selling is cautious and incomplete. Initially, it appeared that at least some abusive adoption practices involving the transfer of children for financial consideration had been clearly condemned as a form of illicit child selling or child trafficking. However, a closer analysis of these provisions, in the context of both domestic and intercountry adoption, reveals that their prohibitions of abusive adoption practices as trafficking are largely illusory and ineffective. The law and practice regarding money and adoption turn out to be so mired in legal fictions and regulatory gaps as to make it extraordinarily difficult to distinguish between licit and illicit payments. The law of both domestic and intercountry adoption systems are compromised in their capacity to prohibit abusive adoption practices, because they have habitually permitted market behavior to predominate, while excusing such behavior through legal fictions.

The Conclusion compares Judge Richard Posner’s use of verbal formulas in defending his famous market approach to adoption, with the use of similar verbal formulas in the law. These verbal formulas repeat the law’s earlier reluctance to define the sale of a person as a form of illicit trafficking, absent some further enslavement or exploitation of the person. The Conclusion suggests that the law uses verbal formulas and legal fictions to implicitly permit what Judge Posner so controversially advocated, the creation of an adoption market in children. Under these circumstances, it turns out that the actual practices of intercountry adoption are, in systemic forms, a form of child selling or child trafficking. This is not to say that every individual adoption is illicit or unethical, but rather that the adoption system has become so intertwined with market behavior as to, in theory and practice, frequently permit child selling as a form of adoption. While some of the most important sending nations are generally free of child trafficking within their adoption systems, the adoption systems of a significant number of sending nations have been seriously impacted by abusive practices related to money and the transfer of children. This Article concludes that unless significant reforms are adopted, intercountry adoption will eventually be abolished with history judging it as another form of exploitation. Therefore, even assuming that intercountry adoption is not inherently exploitative or a form of child trafficking, it will be judged such, because the legal system and adoption practice have permitted intercountry adoption to operate as a market in human beings.

The Two Faces of Intercountry Adoption

From: The Two Faces of Intercountry Adoption: The Significance of the Indian Adoption Scandals

Intercountry adoption has pressed into the public consciousness in two contradictory ways. On the one hand, intercountry adoption is presented as a heart-warming act of good will that benefits both child and adoptive family.1 The child is characterized as a bereft orphan doomed to a dismal future within a poor country. All the child needs is a chance and a home. The adoptive family’s simple act of love in bringing the child to the promised land (the United States) brings to the adoptive parents a harvest of love from the child while also enriching the nation with a dynamic diversity.

Contrasted with the positive face of adoption are numerous scandals and horror stories concerning intercountry adoption. Adoption is portrayed as child trafficking or baby selling.5 Shadowy figures buy, steal, or kidnap children from poor families in developing nations for sale to adoptive families in rich nations.6 Corrupt agencies within the United States collect fees from prospective adoptive families and then fail to produce a child.7 Pregnant women are shipped into United States territory in order to place children for adoption without coming under the jurisdiction of the immigration authorities.8 This face of intercountry adoption is more akin to organized criminal activity than an act of love.

This Article uses the recurrent adoption scandals in Andhra Pradesh, India, as a case study of these two faces of intercountry adoption. The Andhra Pradesh adoption scandals are significant in several ways. First, their recurrent nature illustrates the difficulty of “reforming” intercountry adoption. Second, the development within Andhra Pradesh of movements seeking to keep particular children within India, which have been engaged in legal and political conflict with prospective adoptive parents seeking to bring children to the United States, demonstrates the political and social hazards implicit in intercountry adoption. This trajectory from scandal to the development of activist movements within sending countries willing to publicly question the legitimacy of intercountry adoption bears watching.

The questions raised by the two faces of intercountry adoption are factual, legal, political, and ideological. Factually, the Andhra Pradesh adoption scandals, like those occurring elsewhere, exemplify the grave difficulty of attaining transparency in intercountry adoption. Years after allegations are made, facts remain elusive. Legally, the Andhra Pradesh scandals illustrate the wide gap between the laws of intercountry adoption and the actual practices. Politically, the scandals reveal the manner in which different interest groups within sending and receiving countries employ their varying capacities for political mobilization. Ideologically, the scandals evidence the complex and deep-felt responses and perspectives that surface as a result of the supposedly “simple” act of placing a child from one nation within a family in another nation.

The thesis of this Article is that there are systemic vulnerabilities in the current intercountry adoption system that make adoption scandals, such as the ones in Andhra Pradesh, India, predictable. Further, this Article suggests that currently there are no actors in the intercountry adoption system with the requisite information, authority, and motivation to prevent abusive or corrupt adoption practices. Under these circumstances, “reform” of the intercountry adoption system remains elusive and illusory, leading to cyclic and repetitive patterns of scandal.

Finally, the Article asks about possible sources or paths of reform sufficient to prevent recurrent scandals such as those in Andhra Pradesh. The Article suggests that the United States government is well positioned to alter the system and bring about significant reform. If the political will can be found, the United States government could use the implementation of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption to create an accountability structure for intercountry adoption. The key to this structure will be a chain of accountability under which United States adoption agencies become responsible for the acts of their partner agencies and facilitators in sending countries.

Pound Pup Legacy