Child laundering

Child laundering

Child laundering is a scheme whereby intercountry adoptions are effected by illegal and fraudulent means. It usually involves the trafficking of children which is usually illegal and may involve 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 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 have more opportunities as a result of this adoption.[2]

Hierarchy of involvement

There is a complex [2]

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 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 usually have no intentions on severing their parental rights or abandoning their children. However, these same institutions sometimes take advantage of the child's vulnerability and illegally profit by putting them on overseas adoption markets, netting orphanage owners thousands of dollars per child.[2] 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, and to what extent the family should be sought after is also debatable. If these initial efforts to locate the family fail, or are declared as failures, the institution then has the opportunity to capitalize on this failure by putting the child up for adoption.[2] Another way by 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] Most of the time, the parents are led to believe that they will still be kept in contact with the child and receive financial support from the adoptive parents. Likewise, they are sometimes told that they will eventually be able to immigrate to the West and live with their child once he/she is grown. Through these methods and more, recruiters lead the birth parents to believe they are providing a better future for their child.[2]

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 was 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.[2]

Intercountry adoption

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] Prospective adoptive parents are placed with the "orphans" through adoption agencies, brokers, or advertising agencies online.[6] 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.

International legislation

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.[7] 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 sending country if corruption in the adoption process is discovered.[8]

Stance of the United States

The U.S. 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.[5] Furthermore, the adoption agencies in the West are operating within a completely legitimate sphere, and have no way of knowing that they are a party to this human rights violation.[2] Therefore, the United States does not have the jurisdiction to prosecute these agencies working in the developing countries.

Case studies

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[9]

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, making any unscrupulous methods employed worth the risks and implications in their minds. Some of the methods included women being told their baby did not survive childbirth, or the outright purchase of a child.[10] 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.[11] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[9]


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[9]

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 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.[13] 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.[8] 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.[13] 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.[14]


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 [9]

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 $20 USD or deception of birthparents into relinquishing physical custody are systematically employed.[15] 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 charged with 18 months in prison, a fine, and required community service.[16] Currently, the United States, formerly one of the most common destinations for Cambodian adoptees, no longer processes adoptions from Cambodia.[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b Smolin, David 2010
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Smolin, David 2005
  3. ^ Petit, Juan Miguel 2003
  4. ^ Dudley, William 2004
  5. ^ a b Minh, Kevin 2004
  6. ^ Masnerus, Laura 1998
  7. ^ Mezmur, Benyam 2010
  8. ^ a b Meier, Patricia 2008
  9. ^ a b c d e U.S Dept. of State 2011
  10. ^ Rotabi and Bunkers 2008
  11. ^ a b Carroll, Rory 2007
  12. ^ Hoffman, Meredith 2011
  13. ^ a b Custer, Charles 2011
  14. ^ Smith, Gary-Laura 2009
  15. ^ Baker, Mark 2003
  16. ^ U.S Dept. Of Justice 2004