How much would you pay to become a parent? For many people, the cost of having a child is priceless. There is no amount of money that can compare with the joy of raising another human being and having that child love you. But what happens when you can’t conceive naturally on your own or can’t afford expensive IVF (in vitro fertilization)? What if the adoption process has failed you and you’re left confused and all alone as to what to do?

What if you know of a place in the black market where you could buy a child, and even choose them based on the color of their skin?

That’s exactly what is happening in many areas of the Philippines. Desperate mothers are selling their children to other desperate women, sometimes for as low as PhP5,000 (US$89).

The reason, usually, is poverty. In the Philippines, the average household size is 4 persons, though this tends to be higher in the provinces, where families of 6 or even 12 are common. However, further research states that it would take around PhP102,006 (USD$1,825.30) for a family of four to live comfortably – and this is not considering inflation or special expenses, such as family vacations.  

Compare that with the average salary in the Philippines of only PhP18,423 (US$329.66), and only one person in the household earning income. This assumes, of course, that there is one person who is gainfully employed. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the unemployment rate in the Philippines is currently at 4.8%, with the poverty rate at 22.4%. This means that even when (or if) a family has one working person in their household, there is no guarantee that they earn enough to buy food for all of them.

This poverty is a driving factor for these unregulated adoptions, where poor mothers are forced to sell their children to more financially stable individuals. 

But why can’t they just stop having children?

Of course, people can just stop having children. This is fairly more complicated in the Philippines, where a majority of the population is heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. The Church teaches families to go forth and procreate and consider any form of birth control to be a sin against the Lord. They, instead, preach abstinence for the youth and family planning or withdrawal for married couples. Women in the provinces have even been told that taking synthetic birth control can lead to cancer, which has caused many women to shy away from using it.

Let me be clear: There are many nonprofit organizations here that talk about birth control and sex education, but the point is that sex is rarely talked about. In fact, it’s considered taboo to even mention it – dirty minds, after all, lead to dirty bodies.

Contraception method concept. Vector flat color icon illustration set. Collection of icons of different contraceptive methods. Birth control and pregnancy prevention. Design for health care.

But this is hardly effective, especially in this age where online pornography is easily available. Even tamer sites, such as TikTok and to a certain extent OnlyFans, are easily accessible and glamorize sexual activities for children to follow. Teens are shown how to be sexual but are not taught how to manage their sexuality. For them, sex is seen as a fun pastime or as something to do when you’re bored.

Procreation never comes into their mind.

This was most evidently seen during the pandemic. Studies have shown that the Philippines, aside from having the strictest lockdown in the world, also has one of the highest baby booms in that period. People were out of jobs, stuck at home with no access to any form of contraception other than mental discipline. In addition, we Filipinos are constantly taught that the sole purpose of marriage is procreation. If you are married, it’s expected that you will have children, because…well, what other reason could there be?

The effects of such a combination are seen in thousands and thousands of babies being born to parents who can’t afford them.

The black market of baby selling

The concept of “baby selling” is not new to the Philippines, but perhaps is less known at a global level. Several documentaries, published locally, have already been made of mothers selling their children on fake adoption sites on Facebook. Impoverished women list their children off as they would any commodity: with attractive features, such as expected date of delivery, price range, and even gender.

Some women who, unfortunately, have already given birth, try to sweeten the offer by mentioning the child’s skin color or perceived health (typically by how plump they are). Exchanges are then made in person, with the birth mother handing over her baby to a stranger for the agreed-upon price.

On rare occasions, babies are sold to neighbors, relatives of friends, or same-sex couples who want to have a child of their own. The presumption is that the baby will have a “better life” with people who are more financially stable than the birth parents; and since the parents “know” the buyer, there is a reduced risk of harm to the child.

These adoptions are usually signed off with a piece of paper that says that the birth parents willingly gave up their kid to so-and-so for x amount of money. None of these are legal, of course, but there’s a sense that both parties did “the best they could” under such conditions.

Why illegal adoptions are rampant in the Philippines

Poverty may be the main reason illegal adoptions continue to rise in the Philippines, but we also cannot understate the complicated adoption process this country has. While the adoption timeline is supposedly 9 months, most parents say that it can take as long as 21 months or even longer, with no guarantee of getting a child in the first place. Plus, there’s the fact that adoption in the Philippines is completely free. Both the birth parents and the adoptive parents pay no fee (or receive any) during the process. This makes it less desirable for the mom who has just given birth to her 8th child, is homeless, and has no job.

There is also the beauty, convenience, and some level of anonymity with the internet. In the black market, you not only have a wider selection of goods, but you also have more flexibility in terms of pricing. Here, you can choose the child you want, at a date that is convenient for you, and in the price range that suits your budget. And somewhat guiltily, you feel kind of good knowing that you are able to “save” a baby from an impoverished life while enriching yours.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, there is no single solution to this issue. However, it is important that more people talk about it so that discussions can be had on how to resolve it. Should the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) shorten the adoption process? Should women (and their partners) be taught proper sex education? Should we address the poverty issue instead, and develop initiatives to help more people find jobs?

Regardless of the answer, the truth is that the Philippines is suffering from a birth rate problem, but it goes beyond just having “too many people”. Instead, we see the wounds of it, with mothers openly selling their children just so that their other ones can eat.

 

Raine GreyRaine Grey is an experienced content writer from the Philippines. A profound lover of books, she believes that life is meant to be enjoyed without encroaching on the rights and liberties of others. Raine is passionate about mental health initiatives, having been diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder herself. She is the mother of her adopted rescue cat, Cuapao.

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