Where is the Line Between Adoption and Child Buying?

Adoption was once under the auspices of trained social workers who purported to have the best interests of children-in-need in their heart. Over the past several decades, however, American domestic infant and international adoption has become privatized and entrepreneurial. Only adoption from foster care remains in the hands of the state and unfortunately represents its own set of failures, abuses and funding driven corruption.

The difference between for- and not-for-profit adoption agencies is merely a tax status, though the later gives an illusion of a charitable organization. Coupled with warm, fuzzy, cutesy names that tug at the heartstrings clients are deluded into a false sense of propriety, oversight and security. The fact is that both types of agencies are commercial businesses that rely of on the fees of a completed transaction to pay their overhead and salaries which is less glamorous and far less altruistic than the public perception of adoption. All vetting and home studies are paid for by the clients seeking a child. Basically, anyone who can afford the fees, which average about $40,000, can adopt, including pedophiles and abusers of all kinds. Pay the fee and get the goods. It’s a supply and demand business in a mega-billion dollar a year industry.

In addition to businesses that fill a demand for children to adopt, there is also the Do-It-Yourself type of adoption that is legally permitted in the U.S. Those seeking to find an infant to adopt, as well as anyone seeking to place a child for adoption, can find one another through newspaper advertisements, and online via Craig’s List or social media such as Facebook, and have their attorney handle necessary filings to make the adoption legal. Just like a “For Sale by Owner” house listing, middlemen “finder” fees are avoided by the DIY method. But, so too is are protections and any professional advise said fees may offer.

In either case – on your own or with the assistance of an adoption agency – the process winds up resulting in prospective couples matched with expectant mothers which, opens the door to unhealthy, unequal relationships.  On the one hand are people of means with legal representation, and on the other side is a distraught and hormonal mother or couple in crisis, lacking financial wherewithal and legal counsel, who potentially have something the other wants desperately and is willing and able to pay for.  A potential powder-keg.

The opportunities for exploitation are enormous when would-be adopters and expectant moms are matched and put in direct contact with one another on their own or through adoption agencies. Promises, hopes and expectations are created and built upon as time goes on. Both parties are vulnerable and in an at-risk situation.

Many of these relationships become enmeshed with an often young, isolated and vulnerable woman becoming – literally or figuratively –a member of the adopters household. Adopters will attend doctor visits and take great concern in the mother’s diet and habits. Fragile women in crisis, often in the throes of a rejection by the baby’s father or their parents, believe the attention being showered on them is sincere, while in reality it too often is just a means to an end. Many are made to feel literally or figuratively a member of the adoptive family,

If she is not living with the intended parents of her child, prospective adopters are allowed to pay “living expenses” which increase the expectations of the prospective adopters who feel they are paying for results – a baby. The payment of expenses, while allowable by law, clearly violates the intent of laws prohibiting pre-birth contracts as baby selling.

These predatory adoption practices, which include adopters in the delivery room and no time allotted the mother to see and hold her newborn before making a final, irrevocable, life-changing decision based on the reality of a her child’s presence, are akin to funeral directors and cemetery salesmen being allowed to approach families of terminally ill patients. The later is unheard of, while the former is a currently accepted practice. Mothers in this situation report feeling indebted and obligated to go through with something about which they have had a change of heart. Some are outright coerced and threatened, told either relinquish the child or repay the expenses.

At the same time, adopters are at great risk of being disappointed or scammed. Because the lines between legitimate adoption, gray, black-market and baby selling are non-existent, it presents opportunities for unscrupulous people to pretend to be pregnant and offer a baby for adoption in exchange for easy payment. Some play on more than one prospective couple at simultaneously.

Because of the vague line between private adoption and baby selling, people get scammed out of money and families are torn apart under duress, rendering them incapable of making a truly informed and free will choice.

Where is the line between a scam and the right of a mother to change her mind and choose to remain the mother of her own flesh and blood child she considered relinquishing?

Sitting in a San Joaquin, California jail cell, accused of multiple felonies including grand theft, is Shaun Micheline.  He is alleged to have scammed a couple who chose to pay the couple’s expenses of $17,000 “in the hopes of” adopting their child.  

Had the adopting couple paid those same fees through an adoption agency or other middle-man, or had the payment led to an adoption, there would be no questions that they were simply paying allowable living expenses “in the hopes” of adopting, while assuming the risk that 50% of all mothers who consider adoption placement do not follow through once the child is a reality. But, eliminate the middle-man and the identical terms and actions become a criminal offense.  Why? 

Unless an expectant mom or someone representing one offers the same child to multiple couples, or, unless she was never pregnant or the pregnancy was terminated, when and how does a change of mind become a scam, punishable by prison? If Micheline is convicted, this case risks setting dangerous precedent for all future adoptions by creating an enforceable contract for the exchange – or sale – of a human being while denying the constitutional right of a parent to raise and care for their own child until their rights are terminated voluntarily or involuntarily for the protection of the child.

Children cannot be allowed to be sought and “sold” via advertisements, yet U.S. law shamefully permits these coercive pre-payment practices that commodify children.

If someone pays for drugs, sex or stolen goods and does not get what they paid for, they have no legal recourse. Why would we grant people paying for a human being — which is totally illegal — the right to imprison the alleged “seller” for not complying? To uphold payments made to a pregnant woman as a contract for the child is to legalize baby selling.

Conversely, for our laws to consider accepting pre-birth payments a crime, then we must ban all pre-birth payments in adoption. It cannot be legal in some instances and illegal in other.

If the law allows a change of mind by a pregnant woman to be a felony offense, it is legalizing baby selling and creating forced adoptions while ironically, at the very same time — Australia has issued a national apology for practices of forced adoptions in past decades.

An expectant mother – or father — considering the voluntary relinquishment of parental rights and the adoption placement of their child, must be allowed to make a free decision without fear of prosecution if either parent changes their mind or refuses to consent. How can it be illegal to want to keep your own child?

Mirah Riben is an activist/author/lecturer. Read other articles by Mirah, or visit Mirah's website.