Thursday, March 17, 2011

Defining Terms When Discussing Corruption

I get frequent requests from adoptive families asking what the probability is that their child was trafficked. In the very next breath some of these families express confusion over what "trafficked" means with a follow-up question regarding their child's birth family searching for their child, and wanting her back. It soon becomes obvious that in many people's minds, trafficking and kidnapping are the same thing.

Global March defines child trafficking as "any act or transaction whereby a child is transferred by any person or group of persons to another for remuneration or any other consideration". The definition continues that "it refers to the process that puts children in a situation of commercial exploitation." When it comes to China's adoption program, this is the definition that is intended.

When a birth family is paid by another family (say in their neighborhood) to arrange the informal adoption of a child, even if money is paid by the adopting family, this does not constitute trafficking since the adopting family is not using the child for commercial gain. Thus, payments of monies by adoptive families to birth families fall outside the traditional definition of trafficking as usually understood by adoption advocates. However, if money is paid to a birth family by a third party, with the intent that the child will then be transferred again for a higher sum of money, then the transaction is commercial in nature, and thus constitutes trafficking.

It does not matter if only one child is transferred, or dozens -- the criteria is the transfer of a child for money or other remuneration with the intent to transfer that child again for commercial gain.

Under this definition, many orphanages in China are involved in trafficking, since they are engaged in paying money to obtain children for adoption. These children are then transferred again to adoptive families for even larger sums of money, resulting in the transaction being for "commercial gain". But it is important to recognize that in a trafficking situation, the child is willingly relinquished.

Trafficking should be considered separate and distinct from "kidnapping", "stealing", etc. Under this situation, one party (usually the birth family) is an unwilling participant. There is no voluntary relinquishment of the child in a kidnapping case. Thus, while a child may be trafficked from the kidnapper to a third party, kidnapping (stealing) a child and then selling them (trafficking) to another party is a subset of the total "trafficking" pie. The terms "kidnapping" and "trafficking" cannot, and should not, be used interchangeably.

When we look at China's international adoption program, both of the scenarios described above can be seen, but in disproportionate numbers. We have seen cases of kidnapped children entering the orphanages. In those cases, the birth families involuntarily lost custody of their child as a result of that child being kidnapped. In a case from the Dianjiang orphanage, the birth family was able to regain custody of their daughter before the international adoption was completed; in a case from a Hunan orphanage, the Chinese Police discovered that a kidnapped girl had been internationally adopted.

Trafficking of children into the orphanages is much more common, forming the foundation of China's international adoption program. In the most common manifestation of this problem, birth families are offered money or other remuneration to willingly relinquish their child. The "finder" then brings the child to the orphanage, where they are paid a larger sum in a "finder's fee", resulting in a case of trafficking under the above definition. The orphanage then adopts the child for an even larger sum of money, again resulting in trafficking under the above definition. In many cases the birth family is deceived into conducting the transaction with false promises of where their child will end up or what their relationship with the child will be in the future.

From the evidence gathered from many, many orphanages involved in the international adoption program, it appears that "kidnapping" of children for sale to orphanage is much less frequent than the "trafficking" of children into the orphanages. The problem is, of course, that in most cases, the kidnapping is a result of the trafficking. In other words, by offering significant sums of money for individuals to "traffic" children to the orphanage, the orphanage also increases instances of "finders" obtaining the child through kidnapping. Without the payment of money for children, there would be little reason for someone to kidnap a child to bring to the orphanage.

It is, of course, extremely difficult to determine how many children that have been internationally adopted had been kidnapped. Intuitively, one would assume that kidnapped children would be older, since a kidnapper would need to find the child alone in order to take her, and newborn infants seldom are found in this situation. Certainly all of the known cases kidnapped children ending up in an orphanage have been older children. But a general lack of transparency inside China prevents all the cases from being discovered.

It is much easier to assess how common trafficking is. "On-the-ground" interviews with finders, orphanage workers, area doctors, etc. provide easy access to trafficking information because these programs are by nature very public and well-known. Additionally, trafficking orphanages display characteristics that betray their programs such as finding location "clusters", unusual demographic characteristics, etc. From this evidence it is clear that a substantial majority of orphanages are involved in child trafficking.

Adoptive families should speak and write clearly when it comes to these issues. The willing relinquishment of a child by her birth parents for money or other remuneration by an individual intending to engage in a commercial transaction with another party for that child constitutes trafficking. The taking of a child from unwilling birth parents constitutes kidnapping. The two terms cannot be used interchangeably.