#4 - JRL 7069 - RAS 16
THE CRIMINAL ECONOMY: THE TRADE IN CHILDREN
SOURCE. L.I. Beliaeva and N.G. Kulakova. Torgovlia nesovershennoletnimi i mery bor'by s nei [The Trade in Children and Countermeasures to it]. Moscow: "Open Society" Institute (Soros Foundation), 2002
As I was reading this monograph, I suddenly recalled an incident from some years back. I was waiting in the check-in line at Sheremetyevo airport to fly home from Moscow. A tiny boy -- he couldn't have been more than 3 years old -- was begging. Working his way down the line from one "uncle" or "aunt" to the next, he emitted an unending whine. His appeal began with how hungry he was, and was repeated over and over again in exactly the same words. My fellow travelers complained to one another about the imposition -- how shameful to exploit one's own child in this way -- and surreptitiously pointed to a woman a few meters away under whose supervision the boy seemed to be. Some of them told the boy off: "Don't do it! Go back to your mother!" When he got to me I thoughtlessly followed suit and tried to cut short his whining and send him back to his "mother." For two or three minutes he ignored my remonstrances, then suddenly he fell silent, looked up at me with an expression that suggested he was holding back tears, and began pummeling me on the leg. (1)
Now I realize that I did not understand the real situation; even my Russian fellow travelers did not understand. The boy had no choice: if he had stopped begging he would surely have been beaten. And he could not "go back to his mother" because his mother was nowhere around: the woman in charge of him was not his mother but his beggar-mistress. She had either bought him or kidnapped him herself with a view to using him as a beggar -- one of several motives (as the authors of the monograph explain) that fuel the trade in children.
The abduction and sale of children, as part of the broader phenomenon of the abduction and sale of people, has a long history in Russia. It is dealt with in legal codes such as the "Russkaya Pravda" (11th-12th centuries) and the "Sudnye gramoty" of Novgorod and Pskov (15th century). As the victims were already serfs or slaves, it was considered an offence not against them but against their rightful owners.
In more recent times, one particular aspect of the trade in children began to get publicity in the media in the late 1980s -- namely, the sale of children for adoption abroad. Children whose parents had renounced them were sold by the personnel (including physicians) of maternity and children's homes to intermediaries who paid off local government officials and made official arrangements for adoption. In 1998, 5647 children were adopted by foreign citizens. Experts (2) in various cities give estimates of between 50 and 100 percent (e.g. St. Petersburg -- 85 percent) for the proportion of adoptions abroad that are really sales.
However, foreign adoptions are only a small and relatively benign part of the trade in children that goes on both across state borders and within Russia itself. In the space of just 18 months, border guards thwarted attempts to smuggle 5015 children abroad, mainly to Turkey, Finland, Estonia, and China.
Only in 1995-96 were provisions against the trade in children added to the criminal code (the new Article 152 and the new sub-article 125-2). The authors regard these provisions as inadequate. For instance, they complain that no specific mention is made of the use of children for making pornographic movies or other products; this can be prosecuted only as "perverted action" under Article 135. Very limited use has been made of the provisions: over a six-year period (1995-2000) only 188 crimes were registered under Article 152. Experts agree that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The authors argue that the true scale of the trade in children is better reflected in the statistics for the numbers of children reported missing. (3) According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 20295 children were reported missing in 2000 (up 17 percent from 1999), including 7154 young children. Procuracy officials estimate the total number of children who have "disappeared" at about 300,000. (4)
It appears that the greatest numbers of children are abducted for purposes of sexual exploitation, mainly in prostitution but also for pornography. Experts estimate that in 1997 over 3000 children were sold into the sex industry in Moscow alone. The authors also mention "the sale of girls to distant villages of the Northern Caucasus as wife-slaves" (p. 72).
Children are also abducted and sold to do physical work, to assist in criminal activity, and as sources of organs and tissues for transplantation, but the source does not tell us much about these aspects of the trade. But we learn a bit more about begging from Mr. Mukhin of the Center for Political Information. (5)
There are genuine beggars, poor people who often combine begging with other means of earning money such as selling drugs, prostitution, and occasional paid labor. Entrepreneurial or fraudulent begging is controlled mainly by Gypsy criminal groups, and is linked to the trade not only in children but also in persons with physical deformities. The number of beggars in the criminal sector is estimated at about 60,000. Moscow beggars work mainly:
* in the metro (55 percent) * in the markets (14 percent) * at railroad stations (11 percent) * in churches (9 percent) * in the parks (7 percent)
(1) I gave him no money and after a while he gave up and moved on. I had learned my lesson from an earlier incident. I was walking along a Moscow street when I was stopped by a small "hungry" child begging for money. I gave him some money (from his point of view, if not from mine, it must have seemed quite a lot) -- and in an instant I was mobbed by a whole crowd of child beggars who had gathered as though out of nowhere. They yelled and jumped up to grab and pull at my clothes. A passerby rescued me and took me aside to explain that they were belonged to a Gypsy gang and that I must never again give such a child anything.
(2) "Experts" refers to police and procuracy officials interviewed by the authors.
(3) This seems a plausible assumption. On the one hand, not all children reported as missing have been traded. Some no doubt have run away from abusive homes; others must have been kept or murdered by their abductors. On the other hand, many must have gone missing without being reported.
(4) To put this figure in perspective: the procuracy estimate the number of abandoned children, including those whose whereabouts are known, at about two million. Children who do not go to school number about 1.5 million. There are some 37 million children in Russia.
(5) Same source as the following item, p. 58