Good Comment: Mott, on child abduction and trafficking in Guatemala

Mott tells a story in the comment thread on Adoption and corruption: human trafficking busts in Guatemala.

For those of you (and I count a couple among the posters here) who appear willing to condone or turn a blind eye to human trafficking in the name of some "higher good," allow me to share a story which, in a sense, may put the proverbial shoe on the other foot. For this could have happened to you.

It is a story that my wife and I have told practically no one. At first, in the wake of the incident, because it was too horrible and unsettling to talk about, and, much later, because the horror had thankfully receded into the distant past. But it definitely happened, and it definitely colors my views today on Guatemalan adoptions.

I am an American. Back in the 1980s I worked for several years in Guatemala as a development worker with a well-known NGO with projects all over the country, though I was based in the capital city. In 1984 my Guatemalan wife and I were blessed with a beautiful baby girl (biological offspring).

Like many people in my line of work we had a paid housekeeper. One day when our little girl was maybe seven months old our housekeeper had to walk down the street about five short blocks to get some small sundry, like milk or something, at a little store there. She asked my wife for permission to take the baby with her, and my wife said of course. (You must understand that we trusted our wonderful indigenous housekeeper implicitly, and besides, Zone 10 of the city was far more tranquil back then, notwithstanding the war in the countryside.) As for me, I was at work 15 blocks away in the office.

Scarcely a block from the little store, the housekeeper carrying our daughter swaddled in a colorful peraje was accosted by a microbus which sped up to her from behind and cut her off. Inside (I am told) was a male driver and 4-5 "well-dressed women." (Bear in mind, this is our housekeeper's account.) Through an open window of the microbus a woman deftly squirted the contents of what looked like a large syringe into our baby daughter's face. Not injected, but squirted through the air. And indeed, it appeared this would have been an abduction, had not something miraculous and ironic happened in that instant. An army jeep with 3-4 soldiers came around another nearby corner and stopped in front of the tienda! They did nothing, really, except that one or two of them went into the tienda to buy something — but the mere sight of them on this very tranquil street must have spooked the people in the microbus, for they suddenly sped off as quickly as they had approached.

Our housekeeper came back home in a panic with our baby. Police were called, and about three of them showed up very quickly in a patrol car, including one female officer who took down our report. I had just arrived home from work, and was quickly apprised of the situation. Our baby, swaddled and deeply asleep in the same peraje, smelled vaguely of rotten eggs, and both the housekeeper and the police officer said that was from the liquid they had squirted in her face – evidently some sort of chemical with a tranquilizing effect. The police had evidently seen or heard of this before; in fact, they seemed unsurprised by any of the details recounted to them.

Well, the moment passed, and we eventually all returned to normalcy. We've been back in the States for many years now (except for the housekeeper, of course). Our little girl is fully grown, graduated from college, and on her own now working at a wonderful job in DC. But we might well have lost her forever, and there is not a shadow of doubt that our daughter might have become one more statistic in the horrible saga of human trafficking and illegal adoptions.

Folks, there is NO PRINCIPLED MORAL DISTINCTION that can be made between kidnapping for adoption or selling a child for adoption. It is human trafficking, and it is wrong. If a child is sold, it doesn't matter if you are the seller or the buyer, and if the latter, it matters not a whit whether you paid the cash yourself or paid someone else to pay the cash.

Moreover, I agree wholeheartedly with the poster here who noted that those who adopt because they want to "save" a child should really consider how many more children they could save by devoting the same resources to vitally needed community development efforts in the country where the children live.