Czech artist falls foul of Kafkaesque officials over “baby rental” website
Last May a Czech photographer and graphic artist created a fake website called 'rent-a-baby.cz', to help draw attention to the high numbers of Czech children languishing in children's homes or orphanages. The website appeared at an exhibition called 'family happiness' that was supported by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. So imagine Jana's surprise when she was told eight months later that the same ministry had filed criminal charges against her...for trafficking in children.
At first glance it looks convincing - click on a list of babies and children, choose the one you want to rent for a few days, drop it in your shopping cart and head to the online check out. But www.rent-a-baby.cz is, of course, fake. It was created for a government-sponsored art exhibition last year on childcare in the Czech Republic that was opened by then minister of Labour and Social Affairs Petr Nečas. Its author, photographer Jana Štěpánová, gave me a tour.
But these are fictional children, and this is a fictional service, and is that quite clear from the website?
“This is absolutely clear. If you go to the menu, there is an explanation of what this website is, why we did it, information about me and other people who co-operated.”
But in January, things took a rather Kafkaesque turn. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs formally requested that police file charges against Jana Štěpánová for – among other things – trafficking in children. Jana says she was dumbfounded when she heard the news.
“Trafficking in children was really ridiculous. It was totally ridiculous, because it’s written on the website itself that it’s fiction. I have no children to offer. These children are non-existent. It must have been clear to all the people who were interested.”