The illegal sale of children makes up more than half of all the cases of human trafficking around the world, according to recent estimates.
Traditionally it has involved the exploitation of children in poorer nations, but an Al Jazeera investigation has found that it is also happening in developed countries, such as South Korea.
For four months, Al Jazeera surfed community boards on popular Korean internet sites, and found an underground trade where pregnant women can sell their unborn children.
The few cases that have surfaced have alarmed the government so much that it is believed to have formed a special task force to bring human-trafficking laws up to date, Al Jazeera's Steve Chao says.
South Korea has had the reputation of being a baby-exporting country for decades, and has been trying to encourage domestic adoption in order to end the stigma (and the practice, though it's not clear which is more important), as the New York Times wrote last fall, though probably not in this way.
Since the 1950s, tens of thousands of South Korean children have been adopted by foreigners, mostly Americans, because of South Koreans’ traditional emphasis on family bloodlines and reluctance to adopt.
But last year, for the first time, more babies here were adopted by South Koreans than foreigners, as the government announced recently with great fanfare: 1,388 local adoptions compared with 1,264 foreign ones. What is more, South Korea — which still is one of the top countries from which Americans adopt — has set a goal of eliminating foreign adoptions altogether by 2012.
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Since 1958, when South Korea began keeping track of adoptions, 230,635 children have been adopted. About 30 percent were adopted by South Koreans, while 70 percent found homes overseas. Two-thirds of all foreign adoptees ended up in the United States.
While orphans made up a majority of adopted children in the two decades following the Korean War, children born to unwed mothers have accounted for the largest numbers since then.
South Koreans who did adopt tended to hide their children’s origins from the children and others.