Cheli Buriel
Graduate Student
Georgetown University


February 18, 2002

Child Smuggling

On January 28th of this year, a child smuggling ring was caught in Tijuana, México while the on next day, January 29th another ring was broken in Fontana, California. 

Coincidence?  In this case, yes. 

Both rings were part of an international smuggling ring that has been in existence for several years in Latin America.  These two cases are only a few of the most recent smuggling events to make headline news.  However, it should not be surprising to read.  Sadly, child smuggling rings have existed for several years all over the world.  There are various motives for these illegal rings.  Some of the most common are to serve as a black market for body organs and international adoption, child prostitution, and to reunite children with family members living in the United States. 

Throughout Latin America, a black market for international adoptions began to grow during the 1980s under several dictatorships.  Thousands of parents were tortured and murdered leaving their children at the hands of the military regimes.  These regimes quickly saw the profits for making money from foreign couples wishing to adopt orphans from abroad.  According to a report issued by UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), “…international adoptions are unethical in times of armed conflicts, natural disaster and massive displacement because authorities cannot guarantee a child is an orphan.”  An example of this atrocity occurred in El Salvador when troops took hold of thousands of children from villages supporting leftist groups such as the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front).  Some of these children went to families of officers and soldiers but most were believed to have left the country with smugglers or adopting families.  Similar events took place other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Paraguay.  Paraguay became notoriously known under Stroessner’s dictatorship, of placing orphaned children and even newborns of living parents into a black market for body organs needed throughout the world. 

The process of resolving all the heartache and turmoil these smuggling rings have caused for families living in Latin America has not been easy.  Numerous organizations grew after the dictatorships in hopes of reuniting children with their extended families.  One such group is the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina.  This group of women has fought and struggled on a national and international level to reunite themselves with their grandchildren and learn of their whereabouts for over 25 years.  One can still travel to Argentina today and see these women out in the plaza protesting with signs and slogans in search of their loved-ones.  Unfortunately, their search has taken a much longer time than those who were found recently in México and California. 

According to U.S. law enforcement officials the motive behind the two rings caught in México and California was to reunite these children from El Salvador, with family living in the United States.  However, Mexican federal officials did not rule out the possibility that this international ring may also involve children destined for prostitution or even death as organ donors.  Overall, authorities from both countries did agree that the number of minors involved in these smuggling events demonstrates a significant challenge to law enforcement.  It is a challenge that, unfortunately, continues to claim the lives of many young innocent victims.  “Although this case seems to have turned out OK, there are many cases where kids have turned up injured or killed as a result of smuggling activity,” quoted FBI spokesman Matthew McLaughlin shortly after recovering the children from Fontana, California.


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