MANILA: Joyce is searching for a baby and she knows there must be someone in the slum who wants to sell their child.
The former midwife, whose real name is being withheld to protect her identity, has hooked up nearly 30 desperate mothers from Manilas poorest neighbourhoods with people who have bought their newborns for adoption.
Boys and girls, Filipino and mixed-race, she has brokered them all. A few of them were even flown overseas where they might have joined a good family. But Joyce rarely knows where they ended up or if they are still alive. She does not really care. As soon as she got paid the commission, these babies were no longer her problem.
“If the mother is fine with it, why should I worry?” said the baby broker. She sits inside a van at a secluded parking lot not so far from her house.
Sometimes, when the arrangement is made while the mothers still pregnant, well give away the baby right after it is born. The new parents would be on stand-by to get it. Otherwise, it takes up to two weeks. Thats the longest.
Babies get sold quickly in the Philippines adoption trade – an illegal operation supplied by the countrys poorest of the poor. Widespread poverty and lack of access to education and basic healthcare has exposed women and children in impoverished communities to exploitation at the hands of human traffickers, who operate under the guise of adoption.
Children are normally traded when they are just days old, although the age can range up to a few months. Prices for an infant usually vary between US$100 and US$500. But according to Joyces experience, they can easily go over US$1,000 if the child is mixed-raced and considered beautiful.
“Those to be flown out are expensive,” she said, referring to one of the children she brokered.
“We agreed on 50,000 pesos (US$1,000) but the price went up because the baby was half-foreign. The mother didnt expect itd turn out that way. So, they added 10,000 pesos (US$200) as they found the child beautiful. That 10,000 pesos came to me, and the mother gave me an extra 5,000 pesos (US$100).”
The scale of the business is hard to determine. Still, cases sometime emerge from the shadows to hit the headlines.
Last year, American national Jennifer Erin Talbot was caught at Manila's international airport while trying to smuggle a six-day old baby out of the Philippines in a bag. The boy was given to her in Davao City by his biological mother, who told officers she wanted him to be adopted.
The term adoption is commonly used in the underground baby trade, where newborns are marketed through the whispers of their own mothers, relatives and baby brokers like Joyce. These criminals exist in a shady world, where they operate almost entirely by word of mouth, and are careful not to leave a trail of evidence which could be used against them.
In the course of investigating the adoption trade, CNA spoke to two other baby brokers in the capital. Both of them said they operate in the same slum as Joyce, where unwanted pregnancies are common and paid adoption is widespread. One of the brokers has arranged three illegal transactions so far. The other has organised two. According to them, sellers tend to be young Filipino women who work at bars and do not want to raise their newborn babies.
“Most of the time, we find these people in slum areas. They dont want the pregnancy in the first place. So, the moment the child is born, they try to dispose of it. They try to sell it for money,” said Ronald Aguto, chief of the International Operations Division of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Last year, he saidhis agency examined about 10 cases of commercial adoption of children. The case numbers have been "steady" in recent years, but that is because the NBI does not have a unit dedicated to tackling the crime.
Aguto said that if there were investigators dedicated to this kind of crime, the case numbers would probably shoot up.
In the Philippines, the NBI is at the forefront of a national effort to eradicate commercial adoption of children. The practice is legally defined as trafficking in persons and it is punishable by life in prison and a fine of US$40,000-US$99,000.
“We have the adoption law. So, the moment you divert from that law, the moment you do it the shortcut way – you receive money from it, you profit from it – it becomes child trafficking,” Aguto said.
ADOPTION VS CHILD TRAFFICKING
Despite the harsh penalties, commercial adoption of children continues to exist in the Philippines. According to the NBI, transactions mostly take place in Metro Manila, where payment is made in cash, face-to-face. Some infants are brought from rural areas in the provinces and hand-delivered to buyers in the metropolis, Aguto told CNA.
Based on his experience, traffickers tend to operate in a small group of 2-3 persons, including two parents and a baby broker. However, there is no official record that reflects the actual scale of the trade in the Philippines, given its clandestine nature.
“Trafficking in children is a global problem affecting large numbers of children. Some estimates have as many as 1.2 million children being trafficked every year,” said the United Nations Childrens Funds (UNICEF).
Joyce has spent many years in trafficking circles and she claimed to have brokered 27 babies. Her previous work as a midwife has gained her many connections. She knows a lot of mothers-to-be in Manilas most wretched areas as well as buyers and brokers who seek unwanted babies for adoption.
Id say Tell me early what you plan to do with the baby. Will you raise it or what?,” Joyce said. “Then Ill start contacting my friends: Hey! Ive got a pregnant woman with me. Its like having a pig. She said she wants to give away her baby. My friends would be delighted: All right. Tell me when she gives birth.
High demand for newborn children means orders keep coming in irrespective of whether there is a willing pregnant woman. Prospective buyers usually come to brokers with requests such as preferred gender, age and appearance. Then they will wait for the search to complete. If Joyce cannot find the right one, she said, her business will slow down.
“But some people would tell me This baby isnt really going to be mine. Im also giving it away to someone else,” she told CNA.
“They arent the ones adopting the babies; they just get them. Usually, wed find out that babies bought from us are off to other places. How much did they get paid? They said 80,000 pesos (US$1,600)."
Before an infant gets sold, Joyce added, some buyers also cover prenatal care expenses, costs of childbirth and transport for the mother-to-be, which normally begins when they are 7-8 months pregnant.
By this time, she said, both the seller and buyer will already have a better idea about the childs health and the risk of miscarriage would be low. The final payment only takes place after the delivery and, sometimes, the infant would be whisked off right after it was born.
“The moment I cut the Read More – Source