Stop illegal
baby trafficking
from Marshalls


Congressman Neil Abercrombie has expressed concern about the circumventing of laws controlling U.S. adoptions of Marshallese infants.

EXTRAORDINARY circumstances have turned the Marshall Islands into the world's most uninhibited baby market. Laws aimed at halting the flow of newborn infants to the United States from the Marshalls are being ignored. Stronger enforcement is needed to ensure that such adoptions are in compliance with the new laws and are not coerced.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie conducted a video conference Thursday with law enforcement agencies, health-care providers, government officials and others to bring attention to the problem. A group of pregnant women from the Marshalls were expected to arrive in Hawaii the next day, bound for Utah to give birth and fulfill adoption agreements.

The incentives for such adoptions are powerful. As the Baltimore Sun pointed out last November in a series of articles about the problem, the Marshall Islands' fertility rate -- the number of children a woman is expected to bear during her lifetime -- is 6.5, more than triple the U.S. rate. The per capita income is $2,300 and the unemployment rate tops 30 percent. It is not surprising that the Marshall Islands' adoption rate of .27 in 1998 was the highest in the world, more than 20 times that of runner-up Guatemala.

A study conducted by Brigham Young University professor Jini Roby of 73 Marshallese women who gave up infants for adoption found their average income to be $400 and that some had given birth as many as 15 times. For most, the baby given up was their fourth or fifth.

American families pay as much as $40,000 for a healthy Marshallese baby. While poverty might seem to induce the mothers to give up their babies to receive the payment of as much as $100 a week while pregnant, Roby found that most did not comprehend the permanence of adoption. Nearly 90 percent said they would not have agreed to the adoptions if they had known their children would not return to the Marshalls upon becoming adults.

Americans are estimated to have adopted 500 Marshallese babies from 1996 to 1999, prompting the Marshallese government to declare a moratorium on adoptions by foreigners. The ban was lifted in 2002, and a new law forbids the payment of money, gifts or other benefits to the natural mother. It also forbids a birth mother to leave the islands to complete an adoption.

Some adoption agencies skirted the law by bringing pregnant Marshallese women to Hawaii to give birth. The tactic was simple to employ since Marshallese are allowed to travel to the United States without visas. In December, President Bush signed an amendment to the Compact of Free Association that requires any Marshallese traveling to the U.S. for purposes of adoption to obtain a visa. Senator Akaka has implored the Department of Homeland Security to enforce the new rule.

As many as 50 babies were born to newly arrived Marshallese women in Hawaii last year. The state Attorney General's Office is investigating whether fraud was committed in using Medicaid to pay for medical expenses. A bill in the state Legislature would require Marshallese court approval of any Marshallese offspring to be eligible for adoption in Hawaii.



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