Abandoned Gypsy Children promote Market for Human Traffic
BOLIGNY, France — The first adoptive parents caught in a Bulgarian baby- trafficking network sought to defend a clandestine system in which they had haggled over the price of newborns and paid for them in cash.
More than 50 Bulgarians and French adoptive parents went on trial in a suburban court northeast of Paris for suspected roles in a secret network dating from 2002. The system operated by word of mouth to reach desperate couples in France’s Roma, or Gypsy, communities, who negotiated prices from €3,000 to €7,000, or about $3,900 to $9,100, for 22 babies, with boys commanding top prices. “You will tell your child one day about the birth?” the presiding judge asked the first couple who appeared before the tribunal in the 10-day trial. “And you will explain to the child that he was purchased?”
“Purchased? no,” murmured Dalida Mancera, 38. She and her husband, Jimmy Julian Rosa, 41, recounted how they had been approached about adopting a baby through a Bulgarian intermediary and had negotiated the price of the child to €3,700. It was the Bulgarian mother of their child — a prostitute — who disclosed the existence of the network to the French authorities after she delivered the baby in May 2004.
More than two months later, she went to the police with a story of misery about emigrating from Bulgaria in search of a new life in Paris and ending up as a prostitute, living in an illegal squat while awaiting the birth of her child. Although the woman was not in the courtroom, the tribunal read aloud a summary of her complaint that her baby had been kidnapped and that she had received none of the money promised her.
Investigators believe that the network operated by prospecting for pregnant women, mostly young Roma girls from Bulgaria, and then organizing their emigration to France with promises of money, jobs and transportation, usually on the Eurolines buses bound for Paris. But often after delivery they had little money and worked as prostitutes to survive.
The French parents were able to arrange for hospital care and legally document the births by giving the biological mothers the medical cards of the adoptive mothers so that the babies could be recorded as the children of French parents. The suspects on trial for trafficking in human beings include 41 parents, 11 intermediaries, two biological mothers and two others suspected of pimping. Four, who are the suspected of having organized the ring, are already jailed, while seven others are being sought on international warrants.
The first couple to confront the charges against them raised a delicate issue, saying they had been forced to buy a baby because the French authorities were reluctant to allow adoptions by Roma families, citing the families’ itinerant lifestyle. The couple told the tribunal that they owned a house in Montreuil, an eastern suburb ofParis. They have grown daughters of their own, but for years yearned to have a son while believing the authorities would never allow them to adopt.
“We couldn’t adopt because we are Roma,” Mancera said, but she added that the family had never tried to adopt though official channels. Rosa said he had been contacted by an intermediary who was living in a house trailer and who initially offered a baby in exchange for €10,000, which he refused because the price was too high. Once the price of €3,700 was agreed on, they got their first glimpse of the baby. In the male-dominated Roma culture, a son is an important part of family culture, which is why the prices were higher for baby boys.
While the couple stood before the tribunal, they repeatedly were asked if they had been surprised or shocked to name a price for their child. Mancera admitted to qualms.
“People say it is bizarre to sell an infant like an object, but when I saw him in the trailer looking so sickly I couldn’t leave him in that misery,” Mancera said. All of the children remain with their adoptive families, pending the outcome of the case, and officials say they are in good health. Trafficking in children carries a penalty of as much as 10 years in prison, but the French parents face milder punishments, as much as three years in prison, for “provoking the abandonment of a child.”
The trafficking in Bulgarian babies has also emerged as an issue in Greece, where earlier this year the police broke up three baby-selling rings. The police there said organized gangs extended loans at high rates to impoverished women in Bulgaria, forcing them to have babies to give up for adoption when they could not repay the loans.