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The sad and desperate situation of juvenile trafficking needs to be addressed in both legal and human terms

For some, this is not an empty question. The going rate is about 16,000 pounds, if you're looking to buy. A mother can expect to see about 1,000 pound of this, according to an article published in The Sunday Times last month.

In "Revealed: Bulgaria's Baby Traffickers" a female journalist posing as a childless Western woman looking for a "fast and easy way" to adopt a child goes to Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city. There, in a Roma neighbourhood, the baby's grandmother offers baby Kalinka: hers for 11,000 pounds.

This article was the most recent in a rash of stories to have broken out in reaction to Bulgaria and Romania's EU accession, as fears over certain undesirable elements in its newest members have got under the skin of the once exclusive EU club.

This has prompted an outbreak of stories such as this one, in which Bulgaria's second city becomes an "ancient and largely dilapidated city where a hepatitis epidemic is raging" and the baby's uncle, who is willing to secure illegal adoption papers for the sale of his niece, is "a gold-toothed streetwise twenty-something" who, naturally "hopes to work as a labourer in London when Bulgaria joins the EU".

But despite the shock tactics, the issue it raises is a serious one, and one that needs to be addressed in a balanced way. A situation in which, as the article claims, "an increasing number of babies are sold before they are even born," deserves proper attention. Yet it is almost impossible to get statistics on the number of babies, or pregnant mothers, trafficked out of Bulgaria, often across the border to Greece where demand from childless couples is high. What is
clear is that the babies tend to come from Roma families.

The Roma, or Gypsy, minority makes up about five to 10 percent of Bulgaria's population (there are no precise statistics) and is its poorest section. Single mothers with unwanted pregnancies, those in debt to loan sharks and pregnant women lured across the border with promises of well-paid jobs are reportedly the most common victims of trafficking.

Childless Western couples, frustrated by the time-consuming and costly adoption process, are the usual recipients. It was not until two years ago that laws against baby trafficking were introduced in Bulgaria. Earlier this year, changes to the law were discussed which would have meant that baby traffickers could face five to 10 years in prison, and a fine of up to 10,000 leva for trafficking pregnant women, while mothers would face fines of more than 14,000 leva for selling their babies.

"Baby Trafficking Might Not Be All Bad" was the column that appeared a week later in The Times, in response to "Bulgaria's Baby Traffickers". "If there is one thing worse than an imperfect home in a rich country, it is no home in a poor country," it argued. "The child who finds a happy home in Europe or America would care nothing at all that her adoptive parents in some sense paid for her."

This raises all sorts of questions, among them the ethics of removing a child from their country of birth, and from their biological parents. Exchange values and life values need to be considered, along with questions of identity and responsibility. Madonna's recent adoption of a boy from Malawi has sparked debate over whether celebrities are glamourising and, therefore, trivialising what is a serious undertaking.

We also need to consider the trend for adopting from developing countries, when the West itself is faced with the problem of increasing homelessness. Somehow, taking a glue-sniffing kid off the streets of London isn't seen as being as socially acceptable or worthy as giving a home to a little brown baby. The logic is that one individual is to blame for their situation, whereas the other is innocent; one is deserving of a "good home", the other is not.

The Roma are the homeless of Bulgaria. It is almost impossible to talk about adoption without mentioning Romania. International adoption was banned there in 2001 following allegations of trafficking. The images of Romanian orphans widely circulated in the media have endured, but what is not so well documented is Bulgaria's large number of "orphans". As in Romania, many of these are not true orphans, but children left in orphanages by families who are unable or unwilling to care for them.

Many of the parents grew up in orphanages themselves and some NGOs believe that international adoption is one of the best hopes for the future for these children.

The fact that people are turning to trafficked babies as a "fast track" solution to adoption points to serious problems with the current system, but also raises questions as to the type of person who would go down this route, when others are prepared to sit it out and pay the price through adoption agencies. The end result could be a similar situation in Bulgaria to that in Romania. Attention must also be focussed on what brings about a situation in which conditions are such that women are prepared to sell their babies.

Yes, this is a sad and desperate situation, but it needs to be addressed in both legal and human terms, instead of being used for fingerpointing. Taking a look at the bigger picture shows that it is a case of supply and demand; if the Westerner wasn't buying, the traffickers wouldn't be selling. Or is that the other way around?

Read 5683 times Last modified on Thursday, 25 July 2013 12:55

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