Babies worth their weight in cash
WHEN it comes to adoption, the demand is much higher than the supply. Hence, the wait for a child is really long and many couples will resort to paying for one, which is illegal.
Although prospective adoptive parents can register with the Social Welfare Departmen t (SWD) to get a chil d, m any complain that they have to wait for a long time.
It's no wonder then that people who are looking for babies to adopt will eventually resort to the syndicates, says Vijayakumari Pillai of Childlink Resources, a child rights consultancy.
“It's much easier and p eople know where to go. There are always sub-agents on the lookout for girls who are pregnant and don't want their babies. The girls deliver at a clinic or small hospital and few questions are asked,” says Vijayakumari who used to be an assistant director at t he SWD.
She says the girls would go to these syndicates because their identities would be kept secret.
Usually, a doctor would b e involved to issue a lette r to certify that the adoptive parents are the birth parents. With the doctor's letter in hand, the birth certificate can then be issued under the name of the adoptive pare nts.
Baby rackets are thriving as a lot of money can be made. A baby can fetch up to RM25,000 so it is not hard to see why there are people willing to do this risky job, says Vijayakumari.
Yayasan Salam Malaysia general manager Dr Hartini Zainuddin says that buying babies is the most common form of child trafficking.
“It is more rampant than children being used for sexual and commercial exploitation,” she says.
Dr Hartini adds that the babies are usually given to the highest bidder who would not necessarily be the best parents.
And prices for the babies vary based on thei r race and gender. A Chinese baby boy would fetch the high est price normally. The price of some babies are even determi ned by their weight; a baby weighing 2.8kg could cost RM28,000, says Dr Hartini.
Desperate measures There are a few categories of people who give up their babies - the poor, students and foreigners. All of them share one thing in common - they can't afford to raise the baby and are desperate for mo ney.
The SWD has often been criticised for not being able to meet the needs of those who want to adopt. Vijayakumari s ays that people are angry and complain about the long waiting period.
“They think it's the same as applying for a telephone line. They don't realise that we're dealing with lives,” she says.
SWD Children's Division director Nor Amni Yusof admits that the waiting period can be long but she also says that some prospective parents are just plain fussy. Also, babies for adoption at t he department are mainly of Malay parentage.
Some parents specify that they only want legi timate children while others want a child less than a year old, she says.
“There was one couple who only wanted a baby below 12 months. They were offered a 14-month-old child bu t they rejected it,” she says.
When asked about a bandoned babies, she says the SWD does not get many of them. Last year, the department managed to place 58 of the 79 aband oned babies with various families.
These children are, however, not up for adoption but for foster care, she stresses. (An adoption order ends a child's legal relationsh ip with her natural family whereas fostered children remain the legal responsibility of the local authority and/or their birth parents.)
After two years, the foster parents could apply to the Na tional Registration Department (NRD) to adopt the child. As for abandoned babies, Nor Amni explains that the department has to advertise in the newspapers for a month for someone to claim the baby. If no one makes a claim, the baby would be put in foster care.
Datuk Adnan Mohd Tahir of OrphanCare is on the verge of opening a baby hatch for mothers who don't want their babies.
“Rather than abandoning their babies, it is better they are placed in families,” he says. The organisation has already matched several unwanted babies with intended families.
“An orphanage should not be the first choice but the last for a child,” he says, adding that an orphanage should function as a transit home at the most.
Angelina Ling (not her r eal name) claims she “facilitates” th e matching of parents with children an d says she has done “a lot” of cases. She started a few years ago after helping a baby boy get a good home and by word of mouth, her “business” has grown although she holds a full-time job.
“Most of them have got into good homes and man y of the parents still call me,” she says. She says her job ends when she introduces the two parties to one another and claims not to know of any kind of money transaction between them.
Token of appreciation She knows, however, that money is usually given to the mother or the family and is used for the mother's me dical bills and to help her start life afresh.
“It's not buying or selling. It's more a token of appreciation. Children are gifts of God and can't be sold,” she says.
T hose who are forced to give their babies away do so because of their difficult c ircumstances, she says, citing the example of a family who already had four children and had to “give away” their baby because their squatter house was demolished and they did not have enough money to buy a low-cost ho use.
In another case, the parents had to give up their chi ld because the father was in debt to an Ah Long (loan shark) who threatened to take the baby away.
“They had no choice but to let g o of their c hild. They were only protecting the child,” she says.
Another tried to terminate her fifth pregnancy when she found out her husband was having an affair. Luckily, says Ling, she heard of her situation, prevented the abortion and g ot someone to adopt the baby. “Children are innocent; they deserve to be loved and given the best,” she says.