Child laundering is a scheme whereby intercountry adoptions are effected by illegal and fraudulent means. It may involve the trafficking of children, the acquisition of children through monetary arrangements, deceit and/or force. The children may then be held in sham orphanages while formal international adoption processes are used to send the children to adoptive parents in another country.
Child laundering rings are often expansive with multiple hierarchies of people motivated by large profits from the black markets of intercountry adoptions. With Westerners willing to spend thousands of dollars to adopt a child, enough monetary incentives are created to extend the laundering ring from the middle classes to societies' more affluent groups. These "baby broker" families subsequently forge a new identity for the laundered child, "validating" the child's legal status as an orphan and ensuring the scheme will not be uncovered.
Child laundering is highly controversial; while many argue that these children are being treated as a commodity and stripped of family contact, others argue that, ultimately, the children will live in a more affluent environment and have more opportunities as a result of this adoption.
Hierarchy of involvement
There is a complex hierarchy within the child laundering business which includes governments, orphanages, intermediaries, birth families, and adoptive families. The people who oversee these child laundering rings are estimated to make $2,000 to $20,000 per overseas adoption. Therefore, it is advantageous for these individuals to have the necessary language and social skills in order to work closely with Western adoption agencies. Intermediaries are crucial in acquiring the child, for their job is to locate extremely impoverished parents who may be willing to relinquish their children out of necessity. Often, the people involved in recruiting and managing the adoption ring are local middle or upper class citizens, and they often have a negative view of the very poor. Therefore, recruiters can rationalize taking these children from the biological family on the grounds that the child will be better reared in the West. Many members of foreign governments are bribed to hasten these illegitimate adoptions, and also to ignore the illegality of these criminal organizations.
Process of illegal adoptions
Illegal child laundering adoptions involve a hierarchy of people as described above, who manipulate the legal adoptions system in order to profit. This process begins when recruiters gain physical custody of children through various means. Then, children are often taken to orphanages which arrange the adoptions, where they are sometimes severely mistreated. Finally, after a forgery of documents to falsify a child's identity, the child is sent to the West to be united with his or her adoptive parents.
There are several different ways by which "orphans" are acquired and later sold within the adoption system. Parent nations are almost always poor, and in most places, these countries also have a system where impoverished parents can temporarily care for their children by placing them in orphanages, hostels or schools. This community provides poor children with care, housing, and food until the family is in a more favorable economic situation. In these cases, parents may have no intention to sever their parental rights or abandon their children. However, these institutions may take advantage of the child and family's economic and social vulnerability to illegally profit by making the child available to overseas adoption markets, netting orphanage owners thousands of dollars per child. Another instance where children are wrongly deemed orphans is when said children become lost or separated from their families. Although institutions are required by law to make an effort to locate the family, there is virtually no way to assess whether they actually do this. If these initial efforts to locate the family fail, or are declared as failures, the institution then has the opportunity to capitalize on this by putting the child up for adoption. Another way in which "orphans" are acquired is through an outright purchase of the child. The recruiters for these adoption rings seek out poor, pregnant women and offer to pay for their child. Relinquishing parents may be led to believe that they will be kept in contact with the child and receive financial support from the adoptive parents. Likewise, they may be told that they will eventually be able to immigrate to live with their child once he/she is grown, presumably in a more economically developed nation. Through these methods and more, recruiters lead the birth parents to believe they are providing a better future for their child.
Treatment of children in orphanages
United States ICE agents have visited several of the orphanages in other countries associated with the business of child laundering, with shocking findings. The conditions of the babies were inhumane; the children were unwashed and unclothed, unprotected from malaria lying in rusty cribs (Smolin: Child Laundering 139). Additionally, there was no experienced nurse caring for the children, and the investigator termed it a "stash house". With the thousands of dollars that these orphanages receive for each adoption, the conditions children are kept in could be vastly improved for just a fraction of the racketeers' profits.
The United States is responsible for most intercountry adoptions in the world: 20,000 out of the total 30,000 total orphans adopted annually. The Westerners who adopt from developing nations pay thousands of dollars to process the paperwork of one child. This provides a lucrative incentive for those involved in the process. In many cases, the prospective adoptive parents are motivated by a sense of altruism, coupled with their desire to overcome infertility and fulfill the Western standard of the nuclear family. These adoptive parents create a demand for healthy infants that will be able to assimilate into their new home and cut off ties to their birthplace and culture of origin. Prospective adoptive parents are placed with the "orphans" through adoption agencies, brokers, or advertising agencies online. Due to the fact that most of the children adopted overseas are so young, they will not have any memories of their birth families. Without a paper trail and without any input from the child, it makes it near impossible to detect whether a child is truly an orphan.
Hague Adoption Convention
The Hague Adoption Convention has been widely adopted to regulate international adoptions. The Convention seeks to establish certain rules for international adoptions to combat child laundering. It seeks to establish an indirect solution to abuses. However, the Hague Convention fails to require any effort to preserve the family before turning to international adoption, and therefore the Convention mostly represents an anti-trafficking treaty. In 2000 the U.S. Congress enacted the Intercountry Adoption Act in order to implement the ideas of the Hague Convention. However, this Act is limited in the fact that the United States cannot enforce any measures against the sending country if corruption in the adoption process is discovered.
Stance of the United States
The US State Department does not consider child laundering to be a form of human trafficking, as it is a non-exploitative result. Furthermore, it is seen as a humanitarian act, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the child. The adoption agencies in the West are operating within a completely legitimate sphere, and have no way of knowing whether they are a party to this human rights violation. Therefore, the United States does not have the jurisdiction to prosecute these agencies working in the developing countries.
Child laundering is a global issue, and there have been highly publicized cases in the past decade. Guatemala, China, and Cambodia highly exemplify the problems associated with intercountry adoptions.
From 1999–2011 there have been:
- 29,731 adoptions of Guatemalan children
- 15,691 females and 14,040 males
- 20,829 of these adoptions have been children under 1 year of age
- 6,557 children 1–2 years of age
- 2,749 children aged 3–18 years of age
Before Guatemala's adoption of the Hague Convention in 2007, child laundering was a widespread and notorious issue in Guatemala. The recruiters are called jaladoras or buscadoras, and these individuals often work with medical personnel who give the recruiters information about where vulnerable women can be located. For every child procured, the buscadora earns anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000. Some of the methods included women being told their baby did not survive childbirth, or the outright purchase of a child. These women never received much in compensation for their child, as most of the bribes went to the "baby brokers" who process most of the paperwork in the adoption process. Since signing of the Hague Convention, new laws were passed by Guatemala to create new standards for the adoptions process. All adoption agencies have to be accredited and be accountable for their actions, as well as keep detailed and accurate financial records. Additionally, foster care now has much more accountability to the oversight of the Secretaria de Binestar Social (SBS). The Central Authority (CA) was also established in order to ensure Guatemala's compliance with Hague Convention rules; children who have been legally approved for adoptions (by a judge) are matched with a prospective adoptive family by a team made up of a CA social worker and a psychologist. Following the restructuring of the Guatemalan government, Guatemala had ceased all foreign adoptions. In 2011 however, they announced that the government will be reviewing cases that had been in the works in 2007, but were not going to accept any more cases. At the present time, the United States is no longer processing adoptions from Guatemala, finally following suit with the number of other countries who placed moratoriums on Guatemalan adoptions.
From 1999–2011 there have been:
- 66,630 adoptions of Chinese children
- 60,431 females and 6,199 males
- 25,605 of these adoptions have been children under 1 year of age
- 33,566 children 1–2 years of age
- 6,904 children aged 3–18 years of age
China has experienced rampant child laundering in past decades, although now they are considered to be better off than most other sending countries. China reports about 10,000 kidnappings or abductions a year, although the true numbers are considered[by whom?] to be much higher. The official statistics are only based on those that are resolved, but it is very difficult to prove that a child has been kidnapped and then laundered. Most of these children are from poor families in the rural areas, and are taken as a result of the profits to be made from Western families. The Hunan scandal brought many of these issues to light, as orphanages sent intermediaries into rural areas to acquire children that are then moved around Hunan and given fraudulent documents in order to cover up the situation. Some argue that the issue of child laundering in China stems from the one-child policy, which created what was once a surplus of children to be adopted. However, since the demand for Chinese children has increased, institutions resort to methods like kidnapping in order to meet the demand and make a profit. This has been criticized due to the fact that the system of international adoptions has created a system where poor families in China are abused in order to satiate the Western demand for children. Additionally, the ethnocentric justifications for these behaviors suggest that the child will have a better life without any connection to the biological family in the West, but some believe that the family should be preserved at all costs.
From 1999–2011 there have been:
- 2,355 adoptions of Cambodian children
- 1,369 females and 986 males
- 1,370 of these adoptions have been children under 1 year of age
- 677 children 1–2 years of age
- 308 children aged 3–18 years of age
While most instances of intercountry adoption take two or more years to process, Cambodia has made a policy of expediting this process, often in as few as three months. Human rights activists consider Cambodia to be one of the countries with the most corruption involved in intercountry adoption. LICADHO, a Cambodian human rights group, has expressed that recruiters target poor families and women in their efforts to gain access to young children. Tactics such as the outright purchase of babies for as little as US$20 or deception of birthparents into relinquishing physical custody are systematically employed. One particular case that gained media attention focused on a child laundering scheme run by an American woman named Lauryn Galindo. Galindo was prosecuted in the United States and convicted of "material misrepresentations as to the orphan status and identities" of infant adoptees over the period of 1997 through 2001. Galindo was sentenced to 18 months in prison, a fine, and required community service. Currently, the United States, formerly one of the most common destinations for Cambodian adoptees, no longer processes adoptions from Cambodia.
- Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction
- Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption
- International adoption
- List of international adoption scandals
- Trafficking of children
- Smolin, David 2010
- Smolin, David 2005
- Petit, Juan Miguel 2003
- Dudley, William 2004
- Minh, Kevin 2004
- Masnerus, Laura 1998
- Mezmur, Benyam 2010
- Meier, Patricia 2008
- U.S Dept. of State 2011
- Rotabi and Bunkers 2008
- Carroll, Rory 2007
- Hoffman, Meredith 2011
- Custer, Charles 2011
- Smith, Gary-Laura 2009
- Baker, Mark 2003
- U.S Dept. Of Justice 2004
- Smolin, David. "Child Laundering and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption: The Future and Past of Intercountry Adoption." 'University of Louisville Law Review.' Volume 48, No. 3, 2010,' p. 448, 452
- Smolin, David. "How the Intercountry Adoption System Legitimizes and Incentivizes the Practices of Buying, Trafficking, Kidnapping, and Stealing Children." Cumberland Law Review. 2005.
- Petit, Juan Miguel. "Rights of the Child." United Nations: Economic and Social Council Commission on Human Rights. 6 January 2003.
- "Issues in Adoption Viewpoints." ed. William Dudley. Detroit: Greenhaven Press. 2004, p. 66
- Allen, Kevin Minh. "The Price We All Pay: Human Trafficking in International Adoption." Conducive Magazine: 6 October 2009, p. 10; "Issues in Adoption Viewpoints." ed. William Dudley. Detroit: Greenhaven Press. 2004, p. 70
- Mansnerus, Laura. "Market Puts Price Tags on the Priceless." New York Times. 26 October 1998, p. 2
- Mezmur, Benyam D. "'The Sins of the 'Saviors: Child Trafficking in the Context of Intercountry Adoption in Africa." Permanent Bureau. June 2010, p. 6
- Meier, Patricia J. and Xiaole Zhang. "Sold into Adoption: The Hunan Baby Trafficking Scandal Exposes Vulnerabilities in Chinese Adoptions to the United States." Cumberland Law Review, Vol. 39, No. 1. 25 Oct 2008
- US Department of State: Intercountry Adoption Statistics. http://adoption.state.gov/about_us/statistics.php
- Rotabi, Karen Smith and Kelley Bunkers. "Intercountry Adoption Reform Based on the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption: An Update on Guatemala in 2008."
- Carroll, Rory (13 August 2007). "Child Trafficking Fears as Guatemalan police rescue 46 from house". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
- Hoffman, Meredith. "Amid Allegations of Human Trafficking, Guatemala to Review Adoptions." New America Media. 24 August 2011
- Custer, Charles. "China's Missing Children." Foreign Policy Magazine. 10 October 2011
- Smith-Gary, Laura. "International Adoptions Fuel 'Family Planning' Kidnappings." Equal Writes, Feminism and Gender Issues at Princeton University. 5 October 2009
- Baker, Mark. "Babies for sale: no warranty." Sydney Morning Herald. 13 December 2003
- "Hawaii Resident Sentenced to 18 months in Prison in Cambodian Adoption Conspiracy." US Department of Justice, US Attorney, Western District of Washington. 19 November 2004