Nowhere in the world should a child be an item to trade

Published in the Courier Mail 13 March 2009

IT STARTED as a fairly ordinary day. There I was, enjoying a pleasant breakfast, having met some lovely people, and listening to an interesting speaker I had gone to hear talk about chocolate and fair trade.

I left realising that something had changed forever.

On that pleasant morning in South Brisbane, the university professor from San Francisco told us of his personal research into the travesty of human trafficking.

He spoke of his experience on the Thai-Burma border, and told us a child can be bought there for $6.

That was less than what I had paid for breakfast.

I left the function that day and drove back to work, feeling a gnawing disquiet — $6 for a child.

On one hand, it was nothing new. I had been aware that slavery still existed in the world, but on the other, it was something new. I had realised the global, broad concept that human trafficking existed. Yet I had never known how much a child could be sold for: $6.

Children are not commodities to be bought, sold, traded or ordered, whether it is on the Thai-Burma border or in the hallowed halls of scientific research.

I fear we are experiencing a shift at the moment. The developed nations, those who would never buy or sell a child for $6, are in fact doing the same thing, under a different guise.

Ever so subtly, and mostly without consciously choosing to do so, the developed world, is starting to view children as
something we can order in the same way we would a value meal from McDonald’s — this burger, that side and swap the drink.
It started with a small test to pick up a disease or abnormality or two, and before you know it, we can now select certain characteristics, screen out others and choose what type of parents, or parent, to give the child. It’s the McChildren phenomenon.

This was most glaringly obvious in recent reports that Mary and Antonio Speranza, of New Jersey, had applied to use their dead son’s frozen sperm to produce a grandchild by artificially inseminating a surrogate mother.

The New York Times reported that the Speranzas had paid $400 a year to preserve the specimen, and were hoping to have their son’s estate “legally declared the rightful owner of the specimens”.

The state appeals court denied their request. In the judgment, they expressed sympathy for the parents, but explained there was no legal basis which could be found to grant their wishes. Reportedly, as the dead man was unable to be screened for disease, he was unable to “donate” sperm.

That it was the lack of a blood test that prevented this request from being fulfilled should concern us. While losing a son is a tragedy, a bigger tragedy would be creating a child whose father died before its conception, and whose “mother” was little more than a biological host.

Children are not commodities. They should not be bought for $400 a year in sperm storage fees and should not be sold from the cold halls of reproductive facilities to grieving grandparents.

They should not be traded as life in exchange for death and children should not be ordered by using frozen sperm from a dead man and a womb for rent.

Children are not commodities to be consumed for personal gain.

They are people, and they should be recognised, esteemed and protected — wherever they are in the world.

Ruth Limkin