Child laundering

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Child laundering is a tactic used in illegal or fraudulent international adoptions. It may involve child trafficking and child acquisition through payment, deceit or force. The children may then be held in sham orphanages while formal adoption processes are used to send them to adoptive parents in another country.

Child laundering rings are often large and involve the black market. With Westerners willing to spend thousands of dollars to adopt a child, there is a monetary incentive 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.[1]

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 will have more opportunities in life.[2]

Hierarchy of involvement[edit]

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.[2] Intermediaries are crucial because their job is to locate extremely impoverished parents who may be willing to sell their children out of necessity.[2] Often, the people involved in recruiting and managing these rings are local middle or upper class citizens who have a negative view of the impoverished. Therefore, recruiters can rationalize taking these children from the biological family on the grounds that the child will be better off in the West.[2] In some cases, members of foreign governments are bribed to hasten these illegitimate adoptions.[2]

Process of illegal adoptions[edit]

People involved in illegal child laundering adoptions manipulate the legal system for profit. The process begins when recruiters gain physical custody of children, who are then often taken to orphanages which arrange the adoptions, where they are sometimes severely mistreated. Finally, after documents are forged to falsify a child's identity, the child is sent to the West to be united with their adoptive parents.[3]

Child acquisition[edit]

There are several different ways by which "orphans" are acquired and later sold within the adoption system. Parent nations are almost always poor, and may have a system where impoverished parents can find 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 better 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 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.[2]

Children who become lost or separated from their families can be, wrongly, deemed orphans, and although institutions are required by law[which?] to make an effort to locate the family, there is virtually no way to assess whether they actually do. 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.[2]

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.[2] These parents may be led to believe that they will be able to keep 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 migrate to live with their child once he or she is grown, presumably in a more economically developed nation. Through these methods and more, recruiters lead the birth parents to believe that giving up their child will provide a better future for the child.[2]

Treatment of children in orphanages[edit]

After investigations, United States ICE agents observed inhumane conditions in many foreign orphanages involved in child laundering.[4] One investigation found that the children were unwashed and unclothed, unprotected from malaria, and lying in rusty cribs.[2]: 139  Additionally, there was no experienced nurse caring for the children, and the investigator termed it a "stash house". As these orphanages receive thousands of dollars for each adoption the conditions the children are kept in could be vastly improved for just a fraction of the racketeers' profits.[2]

Intercountry adoption[edit]

The United States is responsible for most intercountry adoptions in the world: 20,000 out of the total 30,000 total annual adoptions.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] These adoptive parents create a demand for healthy infants that will be able to assimilate into their new home, cutting off ties to their birthplace and culture of origin.[8] Prospective adoptive parents are matched with the children through adoption agencies, brokers, or online agencies.[9] As most of the children adopted overseas are very young, they will not have any memories of their birth families; without a paper trail or input from the child, it is nearly impossible to determine whether a child is truly an orphan.[citation needed]

International legislation[edit]

Hague Adoption Convention[edit]

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, as an indirect solution to abuses.[10] 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.[1] 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 country of origin if corruption in the adoption process is discovered.[11]

Stance of the United States[edit]

The US State Department does not consider child laundering to be a form of human trafficking, as it is a non-exploitative result.[12][failed verification] Furthermore, it is sometimes seen as a humanitarian act, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the child.[8] The adoption agencies in the West are operating within the law, and as they have no way of knowing whether the children are truly orphans, they have no way of knowing whether they are a party in this human rights violation.[2] While the United States does not have the jurisdiction to prosecute agencies working in the developing countries the children come from, the Department of State does caution that international adoption should only be considered when it is in the best interest of a child and domestic adoption options have already been evaluated.[13]

Case studies[edit]

Child laundering is a global issue, and there have been highly publicized cases in the past decade.[as of?] Guatemala, China, and Cambodia highly exemplify the problems associated with international adoptions.


From 1999 to 2011, there have been:

  • 29,731 adoptions of Guatemalan children
  • 15,691 females and 14,040 males
  • 20,829 children aged under 1 year
  • 6,557 children aged 1–2 years
  • 2,749 children aged 3–18 years[14]

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 often work with medical personnel who give them information about the locations of vulnerable women. For every child procured, the buscadora earns anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000. Some of the methods used include telling women that their baby did not survive childbirth, or the outright purchase of a child.[15] These women never receive much compensation for their child, as most of the money goes to the "baby brokers" who process most of the adoption paperwork.[16]

Since signing of the Hague Convention, Guatemala passed laws to create standards for the adoption process. All adoption agencies have to be accredited and accountable for their actions, as well as keep detailed and accurate financial records. Additionally, foster care is now accountable to the Secretaria de Binestar Social, and the Central Authority (CA) was established in order to ensure Guatemala's compliance with Hague Convention rules. Children a judge has legally approved for adoption are matched with a prospective adoptive family by a team made up of a CA social worker and a psychologist.[16]

Following the restructuring of the Guatemalan government, Guatemala ceased all foreign adoptions. In 2011, the government announced that authorities would be reviewing cases started before 2007, but they would not be accepting new applications.[17] As of 2011, the United States was no longer processing adoptions from Guatemala, joining the ranks of countries who had placed moratoriums on Guatemalan adoptions.[14]


From 1999–2011 there have been:

  • 66,630 adoptions of Chinese children
  • 60,431 females and 6,199 males
  • 25,605 children aged under 1 year
  • 33,566 children aged 1–2 years
  • 6,904 children aged 3–18 years[14]

China has experienced rampant child laundering in past decades, although now[when?] it is considered to be better regulated than most other originating countries. China reports about 10,000 children kidnapped or sold a year, although demographers consider the true numbers to be much higher. The official statistics are based only on those cases which have been resolved,[clarify] but it is very difficult to prove that any individual child has been kidnapped and then laundered.[18] Most of these children are from poor families in the rural areas, and are taken to sell to Western adoptive families. The Hunan adoption scandal brought many of these issues to light, as orphanages were sending intermediaries into rural areas to acquire children, who were then moved around Hunan and given fraudulent documents in order to cover up their origins.[11]

Some[who?] argue that the issue of child laundering in China stems from the one-child policy, which created what was once a surplus of children needing adoption. However, since the demand for Chinese children has increased, institutions have resorted to methods like kidnapping in order to meet customer demand and maintain profitability;[18] the system of international adoptions has created a mechanism whereby poor families in China are exploited in order to feed the Western demand for Chinese children, and the Western ethnocentric view that the child will have a better life in the West, without any connection to their biological family.[19]


From 1999–2011 there have been:

  • 2,355 adoptions of Cambodian children
  • 1,369 females and 986 males
  • 1,370 children aged under 1 year
  • 677 children aged 1–2 years
  • 308 children aged 3–18[14]

While international adoptions usually take two or more years to process, Cambodia has made a policy of expediting this process, with it often taking as little as three months. Human rights activists consider Cambodia one of the most corrupt countries in regards to international adoption. LICADHO, a Cambodian human rights group, has said that recruiters target poor women and families in their efforts to gain access to young children. Their tactics include purchasing babies, sometimes for as little as US$20, or deceiving parents into relinquishing physical custody.[20] One particular case that gained media attention focused on a child laundering scheme run by American 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 mandatory community service.[21] The United States, formerly one of the most common destinations for Cambodian adoptees, no longer processes adoptions from Cambodia.[14]

South Korea[edit]

Korea is one of the crucial leading countries in intercountry adoption. Among sending countries of adoptees, it is the country where global 'orphan' adoption practices began.[22] Their 'success' lead to a global adoption system that still violates human and child rights today.

Under South Korea's military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, white parents in Europe, Australia and the United States adopted 200,000 South Korean children, which is the biggest adoptee diaspora in the world. The European countries included Belgium, Germany, France, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden. This was a major human rights violation by the military dictatorship as most of the Korean children were not real orphans and had living biological parents but were given false papers to show that they were orphans and exported to white parents for money. The Korea Welfare Services, Eastern Social Welfare Society, Korea Social Service and Holt Children’s Services were the adoption agencies involved in the trafficking of Korean children. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission began investigating the scandal in 2022.[23] The military leaders were linked to the adoption agencies board members. They saw adoptions as a tool to 'deepen ties with the West', reduce 'the number of mouths to feed' and to remove the socially undesirable, including children from unwed mothers and/or poor families..[24]

South Korea's Korean Broadcasting System reported on the case of the Korean girl Kim Yu-ri who was taken away from her biological Korean parents and adopted to a French couple where she was raped and molested by the French adopted father.[25] Across Australia, Europe and the United States, the majority female Korean adoptees asked for an investigation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into the child trafficking scandal.[26] The Brothers Home was one of the adoption centers that engaged in the trafficking in South Korea and the adoption agencies and South Korean government destroyed tons of documents to hide their activities and gave false identities to the children while selling them. The Brothers Home Facility sold the adoptees to Australia, Europe and North America and they also raped and used the children as slaves themselves. AP investigated adoptions from 1979-1986 at the Brothers Home and interviewed a woman, J. Hwang who was sold to be adopted in North America by the Brothers Home after she was left there by police in 1982 at age 4. Every child earned the Brothers 10 dollars per month paid by the Korea Christian Crusade adoption agency which later became Eastern Social Welfare Society.[27] Denmark was one of the recipients of the Korean adoptees sold by Korea Social Service and Holt Children's Services.[28][29] Holt Children’s Service was sued by a Korean adoptee in the US for compensation.[30][31]

Sri Lanka[edit]

Between 1970 and 2017, 11,000 babies from Sri Lanka were exported to Western Countries, mainly those in Europe, including The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. The Netherlands received the most children, including over 4,000 babies. Many Sri Lankan families have been forced to give up their children due to poverty and other social and cultural problems. As the demand for infants was high, many adoption agencies, and their intermediates, started "baby farms" where birth mothers and stolen infants were held. Many hospitals in Sri Lanka, especially those in districts like Ratnapura, Galle, Kandy, Colombo, Kegalle and Kalutara, either stole infants or coerced mothers into putting their children up for adoption. Government officials, tour guides, lawyers, and medical staff have all been implicated in unethical international adoption scandals; the babies were bought for around $30 and then sold to foreign couples for double the amount. Starting in 2000, many babies who were adopted internationally returned to Sri Lanka to meet their biological parents, only to find that the documents used in their adoptions had been falsified and the parents they had hoped to meet did not exist. In 2017, after the Dutch TV program Zembla revealed the adoption fraud, both the Dutch and Sri Lankan governments opened investigations, during which the Sri Lankan Government admitted to the existence of baby farms. Since then, many additional adoptees have gone to court to ask for investigation into their adoption.[32][33][34][35][36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Smolin, David (2010). "Child Laundering and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption: The Future and Past of Intercountry Adoption". University of Louisville Law Review. 48 (3): 448, 452.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Smolin, David (2005). "How the Intercountry Adoption System Legitimizes and Incentivizes the Practices of Buying, Trafficking, Kidnapping, and Stealing Children". Cumberland Law Review.
  3. ^ "International Adoption's Trafficking Problem". Harvard Political Review. 2012-06-20. Archived from the original on 2023-08-12. Retrieved 2022-12-11.
  4. ^ "Written Testimony: "Kids in Cages: Inhumane Treatment at the Border"". Human Rights Watch. 2019-07-11. Retrieved 2022-12-11.
  5. ^ "Adoption Statistics". Retrieved 2022-12-11.
  6. ^ Petit, Juan Miguel (6 January 2003), "Rights of the Child", United Nations: Economic and Social Council Commission on Human Rights
  7. ^ Dudley, William, ed. (2004). Issues in Adoption Viewpoints. Detroit: Greenhaven Press. pp. 66, 70.
  8. ^ a b Minh, Kevin (6 October 2009). "The Price We All Pay: Human Trafficking in International Adoption". Conducive Magazine. p. 10.
  9. ^ Mansnerus, Laura (26 October 1998). "Market Puts Price Tags on the Priceless". New York Times. p. 2.
  10. ^ Mezmur, Benyam D. (June 2010), "The Sins of the Saviors: Child Trafficking in the Context of Intercountry Adoption in Africa", Permanent Bureau, p. 6
  11. ^ a b Meier, Patricia J; Zhang, Xiaole (25 Oct 2008). "Sold into Adoption: The Hunan Baby Trafficking Scandal Exposes Vulnerabilities in Chinese Adoptions to the United States". Cumberland Law Review. 39 (1).
  12. ^ "2021 Trafficking in Persons Report". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2022-12-11.
  13. ^ "Intercountry Adoption". Retrieved 2022-10-12.
  14. ^ a b c d e "Adoption Statistics". US Department of State: Intercountry Adoption Statistics.
  15. ^ Rotabi, Karen Smith; Bunkers, Kelley, Intercountry Adoption Reform Based on the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption: An Update on Guatemala in 2008
  16. ^ a b Carroll, Rory (13 August 2007). "Child Trafficking Fears as Guatemalan police rescue 46 from house". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
  17. ^ Hoffman, Meredith (24 August 2011). "Amid Allegations of Human Trafficking, Guatemala to Review Adoptions". New America Media.
  18. ^ a b Custer, Charles (10 October 2011). "China's Missing Children". Foreign Policy Magazine.
  19. ^ Smith-Gary, Laura (5 October 2009), "International Adoptions Fuel "Family Planning" Kidnappings", Equal Writes, Feminism and Gender Issues at Princeton University
  20. ^ Baker, Mark (13 December 2003). "Babies for sale: no warranty". Sydney Morning Herald.
  21. ^ "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
  22. ^ Lee Kyung-eun (2021) The Global Orphan Adoption System: South Korea's Impact on Its Origin and Development
  23. ^ Kim, Tong-hyung (December 8, 2022). "South Korea's truth commission to probe foreign adoptions". AP. Seoul, South Korea.
  24. ^ "More South Korean adoptees who were sent overseas demand probes into their cases". NPR. December 9, 2022.
  25. ^ "양부의 범죄와 양모의 방관...친부모 동의도 없이 프랑스로 입양돼야 했던 김유리 씨의 삶 시사직격 KBS 방송". KBS 추적60분. Nov 21, 2022.
  26. ^ Kim, Tong-hyung (December 9, 2022). "More South Korean adoptees demand probes into their cases". AP. Seoul, South Korea.
  27. ^ Kim, Tong-hyung; Klug, Foster (November 9, 2019). "AP Exclusive: Abusive S. Korean facility exported children". AP. Busan, South Korea.
  28. ^ Kim, Tong-hyung (August 23, 2022). "Danish adoptees call for S. Korea to probe adoption issues". AP. Seoul, South Korea.
  29. ^ Kim, Tong-hyung (June 11, 2021). "Korean adoptee films pain of mother-child separations". AP. Seoul, South Korea.
  30. ^ "South Korean court orders agency to compensate Asian American adoptee". Associated Press. May 16, 2023.
  31. ^ Kim, Tong-hyung (January 24, 2019). "AP Exclusive: Adoptee deported by US sues S. Korea, agency". AP. Seoul, South Korea.
  32. ^ "Sri Lanka adoption: The babies who were given away". BBC News. 2021-03-14. Retrieved 2022-09-01.
  33. ^ "Sri Lanka to act over adoption racket claims". Retrieved 2022-09-01.
  34. ^ "Sri Lanka's baby farms Inter-country adoption racket exposed ! – Expose | Daily Mirror". Retrieved 2022-09-02.
  35. ^ "'There were a lot of baby farms': Sri Lanka to act over adoption racket claims". the Guardian. 2017-09-20. Retrieved 2022-09-02.
  36. ^ "Zembla: Adoption Fraud". Retrieved 2022-09-02.