Dramatic rescue of baby girl poses serious questions about child trafficking

Photo: Policie CR

The dramatic arrest on Thursday of three men who were allegedly trying to sell a ten-month-old baby girl to Great Britain has shocked the nation. Child activists have called for greater vigilance and tougher legislation, while the Czech branch of UNICEF says this particular case is no exception.

It was one of the biggest police operations this year. Acting on a warning from Interpol, the Czech police tightened the net around the three suspects, preventing the baby's sale at the eleventh hour. The plot was allegedly organized by the baby's father and the child was to have been sold for 100 thousand euro -close to three million Czech crowns. Although the father claims they were out to con the buyers and never meant to go through with the sale, the evidence found, including a fake birth certificate seems to suggest otherwise. The police are now trying to ascertain whether this was a one-off or whether the men involved are not part of a crime ring engaged in child trafficking. If found guilty, they could face sentences of up to eight years. Meanwhile, the operation code named "Alenka" has opened up a lot of questions - primarily - are other children in this country at risk? Pavla Gomba heads the Czech branch of UNICEF:

"Child trafficking is a truly global business. It occurs in the developing countries as well as the developed countries and the Czech Republic is no exception. We have been trying to draw the attention of the authorities to this problem for the past ten years. So we were not surprised by this case. I must say that in the course of my six years at UNICEF we have been approached by about nine or ten people who alerted us to the fact that they either knew about a case of child trafficking or a child was directly offered to them for sale. So one can say that while this does not concern thousands of Czech children there are definitely some cases in the Czech Republic as well."

Both UNICEF and other NGOs involved in child rights protection have been calling for greater vigilance and tougher laws. Marie Vodickova from the Children at Risk Fund says she suspects several dozen Czech children may be sold abroad every year:

So what is the fate of children sold? Most people assume that they end up with adoptive families who are ready to pay a lot of money in order to by-pass the lengthy adoption process in their country. But Pavla Gomba says their fate could be much worse.

"We know that the majority of children who are sold in the world - and we estimate that number at around one million or 1.2 million a year - are usually exposed to forced labour, prostitution, production of pornography or even used as organ donors. So we can say that illegal adoption is just a small part of the problem."