A sting operation run by anti-trafficking activist Shangguan Zhengyi and investigative journalists in China resulted in the arrest last week of a woman in her 40s believed to have been using her medical technology company as a front for a black-market business selling newborn babies.
The woman, known as ‘Sister Zhu’ and operating in Weifang, Shandong province, is thought to represent only one of a 100-strong network of similar enterprises operating across several Chinese provinces.
According to Chinese media outlets, Zhu functioned as the middlewoman between prospective parents and pregnant women wanting to sell their babies. Zhu arranged the transfer of 20 to 30 babies per year.
She worked with doctors and nurses in six local hospitals who assisted her by muddling the names on documentation relating to the birth in order to confound any subsequent efforts of the birth parents to re-establish contact with their babies. According to Zhu’s information, almost all of the children trafficked in this way − 97% − are girls.
The black market price for a newborn baby can rise as high as US$20,000. In some cases, the parents are induced to sell their babies because of financial hardship.
For example, the couple selling the baby involved in Shangguan’s sting operation that exposed “Sister Zhu” apparently needed the money to cover the medical costs of their older 4-year-old daughter who suffers hyperplasia and requires skin-graft surgery.
But a similar case, reported in May, concerned a man in Zhejiang province who sold his 2-year-old son for $24,400 so that he could go on vacation.
Both stories demonstrate the vulnerabilities created for children wherever money is allowed to intrude into decisions that should be guided only by the child’s welfare. There are no nice ethical distinctions to be drawn between the sale of a 2-year-old, the sale of a newborn baby and the sale of a child born to commercial surrogacy, which is notionally sold even before it is conceived.
The father who sells his 2-year-old son for seemingly frivolous reasons, the parents who sell their newborn (even if their motivations seem more noble), and the woman who sells her future baby for financial gain are all trading in human lives - worse still, children’s lives.
Wherever children are allowed to be sold, then profit will create temptations and vulnerabilities that can be exploited to their detriment. Operations such as that which uncovered “Sister Zhu” only serve to underscore the importance of maintaining an absolute prohibition on the commodification of human beings.