Babies, Brides and The Everyday Demand for Human Trafficking

I do love a good urban myth. You can usually spot them a mile off. You know, the kind of story that you desperately want to be true because it makes for a fantastic mental picture- like the idea that Isaac Newton discovered gravity via a falling apple, or that the world would be put out of orbit if everyone in China jumped at the same time.

I believed the latter for quite a while actually. After all, there are a lot of people in China. About 1,344,130,000 in fact- according to the World Bank (and Google).

So great is the population that for many years, the Chinese state has enforced a ‘one child’ policy to restrict population growth. Gone are the days when Chinese parents could aspire to have children. At least, without incurring some severe penalties.  

One sinister repercussion of this dwindling supply is the soaring demand for babies. Indeed, for many would-be parents, the preoccupation with having a male heir spells a lucrative business opportunity for child traffickers.

‘Baby trafficking’ has gained plenty of headlines lately after a series of high-profile sting operations against traffickers, with state reports claiming that 54,000 trafficked children have been rescued in recent years. All this action to curb supply certainly sounds impressive. But it begs the question, in a country of vast population, who’s curbing the demand?

There are plenty of scandalous case studies telling of the everyday-ness’ of such trafficking: everyone from government officials to bogus orphanages have been accused of getting in on the action. As with all trafficking, the seductive myth is to blame it on a few bad apples, falling on a few innocent heads.

China’s scourge of trafficking in babies demonstrates a harsh reality. The demand for trafficking often falls within ordinary communities and ordinary desires. Whether parents pining for an heir, bachelors desperate for a bride, or commuters craving cheap coffee, all too many of us will turn a blind eye to injustice if the price is right.

As consumers and communities, we have a very real say in curbing the demand for trafficking where we are. Perhaps you don’t feel equipped to put an end to child trafficking in China (you’re probably right). But what can you do with your own demand? Perhaps action for you means saying “No” to your favourite fashion brand or chocolate bar (or losing a few minutes to write to the manufacturer). A few pennies here, and a few minutes there … this everyday heroism will go further than you think.

What’s the one thing you can change today?


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