Economy of Child Trade

When reading this article one part really struck me:

The abduction and sale of children, as part of the broader phenomenon of the abduction and sale of people, has a long history in Russia. It is dealt with in legal codes such as the "Russkaya Pravda" (11th-12th centuries) and the "Sudnye gramoty" of Novgorod and Pskov (15th century). As the victims were already serfs or slaves, it was considered an offence not against them but against their rightful owners.

Here follows the entire article, digging even deeper and further away into the history of child trade.


SOURCE. L.I. Beliaeva and N.G. Kulakova. Torgovlia nesovershennoletnimi i mery bor'by s nei [The Trade in Children and Countermeasures to it]. Moscow: "Open Society" Institute (Soros Foundation), 2002

As I was reading this monograph, I suddenly recalled an incident from some years back. I was waiting in the check-in line at Sheremetyevo airport to fly home from Moscow. A tiny boy -- he couldn't have been more than 3 years old -- was begging. Working his way down the line from one "uncle" or "aunt" to the next, he emitted an unending whine. His appeal began with how hungry he was, and was repeated over and over again in exactly the same words. My fellow travelers complained to one another about the imposition -- how shameful to exploit one's own child in this way -- and surreptitiously pointed to a woman a few meters away under whose supervision the boy seemed to be. Some of them told the boy off: "Don't do it! Go back to your mother!" When he got to me I thoughtlessly followed suit and tried to cut short his whining and send him back to his "mother." For two or three minutes he ignored my remonstrances, then suddenly he fell silent, looked up at me with an expression that suggested he was holding back tears, and began pummeling me on the leg. (1)

Now I realize that I did not understand the real situation; even my Russian fellow travelers did not understand. The boy had no choice: if he had stopped begging he would surely have been beaten. And he could not "go back to his mother" because his mother was nowhere around: the woman in charge of him was not his mother but his beggar-mistress. She had either bought him or kidnapped him herself with a view to using him as a beggar -- one of several motives (as the authors of the monograph explain) that fuel the trade in children.

The abduction and sale of children, as part of the broader phenomenon of the abduction and sale of people, has a long history in Russia. It is dealt with in legal codes such as the "Russkaya Pravda" (11th-12th centuries) and the "Sudnye gramoty" of Novgorod and Pskov (15th century). As the victims were already serfs or slaves, it was considered an offence not against them but against their rightful owners.

In more recent times, one particular aspect of the trade in children began to get publicity in the media in the late 1980s -- namely, the sale of children for adoption abroad. Children whose parents had renounced them were sold by the personnel (including physicians) of maternity and children's homes to intermediaries who paid off local government officials and made official arrangements for adoption. In 1998, 5647 children were adopted by foreign citizens. Experts (2) in various cities give estimates of between 50 and 100 percent (e.g. St. Petersburg -- 85 percent) for the proportion of adoptions abroad that are really sales.

However, foreign adoptions are only a small and relatively benign part of the trade in children that goes on both across state borders and within Russia itself. In the space of just 18 months, border guards thwarted attempts to smuggle 5015 children abroad, mainly to Turkey, Finland, Estonia, and China.

Only in 1995-96 were provisions against the trade in children added to the criminal code (the new Article 152 and the new sub-article 125-2). The authors regard these provisions as inadequate. For instance, they complain that no specific mention is made of the use of children for making pornographic movies or other products; this can be prosecuted only as "perverted action" under Article 135. Very limited use has been made of the provisions: over a six-year period (1995-2000) only 188 crimes were registered under Article 152. Experts agree that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The authors argue that the true scale of the trade in children is better reflected in the statistics for the numbers of children reported missing. (3) According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 20295 children were reported missing in 2000 (up 17 percent from 1999), including 7154 young children. Procuracy officials estimate the total number of children who have "disappeared" at about 300,000. (4)

It appears that the greatest numbers of children are abducted for purposes of sexual exploitation, mainly in prostitution but also for pornography. Experts estimate that in 1997 over 3000 children were sold into the sex industry in Moscow alone. The authors also mention "the sale of girls to distant villages of the Northern Caucasus as wife-slaves" (p. 72).

Children are also abducted and sold to do physical work, to assist in criminal activity, and as sources of organs and tissues for transplantation, but the source does not tell us much about these aspects of the trade. But we learn a bit more about begging from Mr. Mukhin of the Center for Political Information. (5)

There are genuine beggars, poor people who often combine begging with other means of earning money such as selling drugs, prostitution, and occasional paid labor. Entrepreneurial or fraudulent begging is controlled mainly by Gypsy criminal groups, and is linked to the trade not only in children but also in persons with physical deformities. The number of beggars in the criminal sector is estimated at about 60,000. Moscow beggars work mainly:

* in the metro (55 percent) * in the markets (14 percent) * at railroad stations (11 percent) * in churches (9 percent) * in the parks (7 percent)


(1) I gave him no money and after a while he gave up and moved on. I had learned my lesson from an earlier incident. I was walking along a Moscow street when I was stopped by a small "hungry" child begging for money. I gave him some money (from his point of view, if not from mine, it must have seemed quite a lot) -- and in an instant I was mobbed by a whole crowd of child beggars who had gathered as though out of nowhere. They yelled and jumped up to grab and pull at my clothes. A passerby rescued me and took me aside to explain that they were belonged to a Gypsy gang and that I must never again give such a child anything.

(2) "Experts" refers to police and procuracy officials interviewed by the authors.

(3) This seems a plausible assumption. On the one hand, not all children reported as missing have been traded. Some no doubt have run away from abusive homes; others must have been kept or murdered by their abductors. On the other hand, many must have gone missing without being reported.

(4) To put this figure in perspective: the procuracy estimate the number of abandoned children, including those whose whereabouts are known, at about two million. Children who do not go to school number about 1.5 million. There are some 37 million children in Russia.

(5) Same source as the following item, p. 58



Historian reveals tragedy of Swiss child trade

Slave labour, beatings, sexual abuse, fear and isolation were the norm for thousands of “Verdingkinder”, or "discarded children", who were given away or sold as cheap labour until the 1950s.

Historian Marco Leuenberger told swissinfo that the time has come for reappraisal of this dark episode.

Leuenberger was ten years old when his father first told him of his childhood as a discarded child. Also aged ten, his father had to endure the daily grind of getting up at 5am and working until late into the night.

Inspired by his father and thousands of children like him, Leuenberger in 1991 embarked on a huge research project to explore this dark chapter in Switzerland’s history.

The discarded children were usually orphans, illegitimate or came from the poorest families and they were either given away or sold to farmers.

“Most of these children were used as cheap labour, exploited physically or even sexually abused,” Leuenberger concludes in his study.

Leuenberger and other historians are calling for a nationwide research project to be carried out into the trade in “Verdingkinder”, while many of these former child labourers are still alive.

swissinfo: Were children given away or sold throughout Switzerland?

Marco Leuenberger: Yes, especially in German-speaking Switzerland in the Protestant cantons, though also in Catholic areas. It also happened in [French-speaking] canton Vaud. It is also known that children from [Italian-speaking] canton Ticino were sent to work as chimney sweeps in northern Italy.

swissinfo: How many of these ‘Verdingkinder’ were there?

M.L.: For years, the trade involved more than 10,000 children [every year]. But it’s very difficult to come up with an estimate because there is no evidence available prior to 1820. There were also lots of children who were traded without the knowledge of the local authorities.

swissinfo: How did Swiss authorities manage this child trade?

M.L.: Poor families were forced to register with their local authority every year. It was then decided whether all the family members were [adequately] provided for. Authorities in the 19th century had the right to separate the poorest families.

There were no criteria that [farmers] had to fulfil to receive a “Verdingkind”. They only had to prove that they needed more cheap workers.

swissinfo: Why did the authorities turn a blind eye to the abuses committed against these children?

M.L.: There was a different perspective at the time. Today we speak about children’s rights and children’s right to education. But those kinds of considerations didn’t figure in the 1800s. Lots of children had to work. Poverty was a huge problem at the time.

And even though there were critics of the system even back then, these were voices in the wilderness.

swissinfo: Did these children suffer physically from the work they had to do?

M.L.: That was often the case. They were often given too little to eat [which stunted their growth].

There were also emotional scars. Lots of these discarded children couldn’t cope with adult life. Statistics show that many of them turned to crime.

swissinfo: And these children were also often sexually abused?

M.L.: I found dozens of cases of sexual abuse in court files, most of which never became public. The problem was usually solved by moving the child to another place.

The people who committed these acts were sometimes fined, but never imprisoned.

swissinfo: Did some rejected children complain or rebel?

M.L.: Some tried to, but they usually didn’t find anyone willing to listen.

swissinfo: Children were auctioned off in some places as late as the 1930s. How were these auctions allowed to happen in “free” Switzerland?

M.L.: It’s not possible to explain that. And an explanation wasn’t required at the time.

swissinfo: Some former Verdingkinder, along with historians and politicians, are calling for a historical reappraisal of this subject. What progress has been made?

M.L.: We want to carry out a nationwide research project, which would take up to three years. But so far we haven’t found any support. We could work jointly with the universities or look for private financing.

swissinfo: What are the main obstacles?

M.L.: There are very few sources available. Local authorities and archives only show the bare figures and there are very few written accounts from the victims. That’s why we launched an appeal on Swiss television for former rejected children to come forward.

swissinfo: There’ve also been calls for some form of compensation for these injustices.

M.L.: At the very least, local authorities should acknowledge the errors committed in the past. And they should issue an apology to all former Verdingkinder.

swissinfo: Do you think that these former Verdingkinder will live to see their suffering acknowledged?

M.L.: I hope so. I’m confident, even though there’s been no definite support for our project yet. We cannot tackle this alone.

swissinfo-interview: Renat Künzi (translation: Vanessa Mock)

Verdingkinder were mostly the orphaned children of unmarried or divorced mothers and poor families.

Farmers received a maintenance fee from local authorities to provide food and shelter for the children.

But in practice, many children were malnourished and overworked. Some were beaten or even sexually abused by their host families.

The child labour trade was managed by local authorities, some of which even held public auctions for the child workers.

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