Published in: The Economist

I am 37 years old and pregnant with my third child. I am looking for a couple which will support me during my pregnancy. After the birth I will give up my child’s custody. I am unemployed and have no healthcare insurance. I cannot afford the costs of a doctor and therefore I am looking for someone who can help me. I would like to get in touch only with dedicated couples as I want to give my child to a lovely family that will give the child everything that I cannot.”

The publication of such advertisements is legal in Poland. Interested potential “clients” create fake e-mail accounts in order to get in touch with the seller of the baby. Once they strike a deal, the prospective parents of the sold child pay for the pregnant woman’s accommodation, food, clothes and medical examination. After the birth, the biological mother declares in front of the civil registry office that her patron is the biological father of her child and gives up custody to her child in the court. Neither the staff at the registry office nor the judge seem to notice that the registered newborn is a victim of an illegal adoption.

Mediators are often involved. A few weeks ago Krzysztof Orszagh, a lawyer, was accused of arranging illegal adoptions. In an interview with our correspondent Mr Orszagh admitted to being involved in such transactions for two years when he conducted around 100 consultations and helped four couples.

Official statistics on illegal adoptions don’t exist. According to estimates there are as many as 2,000 a year. Since the end of last year approximately 600 advertisements related to giving up custody of children have been posted on two websites.

In February last year the commissioner for children’s rights, Marek Michalak, sent a letter to the ministry of justice to express his concern about underground adoptions. An analysis of the official adoption statistics by the Polish Foster Care Coalition revealed that from the total number of 2,466 adoptions in Poland in 2005, only 678 had been conducted via adoption centers. Mr Michalak emphasised the lack of information on how the rest of 1,788 adoptions had happened. In its response the ministry said the numbers on unexplained adoptions are “unreliable”, as “they do not consider, for example, the adoptions taking place within families”.  The ministry of justice did not express any interest in analysing the report of the Polish Foster Care Coalition.

Cases of illegal adoptions regularly make the headlines.  According to Beata Dołęgowska, chairman of Child-Adoption-Family, a foundation, the lack of social welfare and increasing poverty are the main reasons given by the majority of women who decide to sell their baby. Currently a family’s monthly social benefit is around 12€ ($16). This is a ridiculous sum, says Ms Dolegowska.

Couples longing for a child pursue illegal adoption due to the length of the adoption process, which takes around two to three years in Poland. “We never tried to apply for a legal adoption,” said a woman who created an account on one of the websites with adoption-related advertisements and agreed to an anonymous interview. “We are discouraged by the long procedure and high expectations”.  Adoptions agencies retort that they need to look after the best interest of the children. “The adoption is thought by the legislator not from the perspective of a married couple, but from the child’s. We have an orphaned child for whom we have to find the best parents, who will stay their parents for the entire life,” says Zofia Dlutek, director of the Catholic Adoption Center.

The welfare of children is the main reason why Mr Michalak is calling for a change to the law on adoptions, which allows the biological mother to search for foster parents, as “this kind of law encourages the development of underground adoption through online ads and illegal mediators”. Mr Michalak recommends barring the biological mother from appointing as foster parent anyone but a relative. The ministry of labour and social policy replied that “this suggestion does not seem to contribute to the reduction of illegal adoptions”.

The correspondence between the commission of children’s rights and two ministries did not result in anything concrete. Each of the three ministries our correspondent contacted (the ministry of labour and social policy, the ministry of justice and the interior ministry) claimed that illegal adoptions are not part of their brief and suggested getting in touch with another ministry.

The commissioner for children’s rights is proposing a ban on private searches for an adoptive child. Workers at the adoption centres and foundations say this is the only way to stop the practice that starts with the publication of adoption advertisements. So far, the government seems undecided on how to put an end to the sale of newborns.