Marshalls women recruited for illegal US adoptions

1:43 pm on 19 September 2017

Officials are concerned about an increase in the number of Marshall Islands women illegally adopting out their babies to families in the United States.

Pregnant woman

Photo: 123rf

Both the US and Marshallese government have been alerted to the rising number of pregnant women being recruited to travel to the US and give their babies away.

Our correspondent in the Marshall Islands Giff Johnson said that there could be over 120 of these adoptions happening ever year.

He said women were being recruited by either adoption agencies or attorneys who are based in the US.

They identify pregnant women who are willing to travel to the States and give up their babies for adoption, he said.

Once the Marshallese women have been found the women are given airline tickets and they could go to various states in the US including Hawai'i, Arkansas and Texas.

Mr Johnson said pregnant women stayed at apartments until they gave birth.

"There may be more than one. There may be quite a few who stay in an apartment or a series of apartments," he said.

"And when they give birth they give up their babies for illegal adoption."

According to the Compact of Free Association between the Marshall Islands and the United States, Marshall Islanders have visa-free travel to live and work and study, but such adoptions are forbidden.

But Mr Johnson said it was difficult for US immigration officers to identify women who were travelling for the purpose of adopting their babies out.

"Essentially young women are coached in what to say...when women are asked, why are they coming, whatever they are saying doesn't suggest that they are going there to adopt their baby."

He said it was also difficult to screen pregnant Marshallese women as many go to the US for better healthcare, especially during difficult pregnancies.

"The reason they go there to have their babies somewhere else [is] simply that they want to make sure they're in a safer medical environment - if there's say a late pregnancy or some complications. So it's a difficult on to get a handle on at that point of immigration."

Giff Johnson said the women saw it as a chance to stay in the US and many didn't return to the Marshall Islands after giving birth, which made them hard to trace.

He said that while the facilitators of the adoptions were being paid for setting them up, the women were doing it for a better life in the United States.

"What they're getting is a free plane ticket to the US, they're getting put up, housed and fed for however many months it takes for them to give birth, they're getting whatever prenatal care handle and all that.

"From what I've heard I don't believe that people are actually getting paid."

He said the combination of agents capitalising on the demand for adoptions in the US, and tough economic conditions in the Marshalls had created a situation where the adoptions were an appealing prospect for the young women.

"The lawyers and the adoption agencies make money right on down the line. Couple it with the fact that you have a country that has very little in terms of an economy, very high unemployment, a lot of people are school drop outs, don't have very much opportunity and someone says "I'll give you a ticket to the US."