6 de Junio: Una culpa compartida

This week, the BBC reported that a woman in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, was arrested for selling her newborn to a 35-year-old woman unable to have children of her own. Initially, the new mother pretended that her child had been snatched from the hospital, but later she admitted to selling the baby. (Note that this is not the same story of infant kidnapping that I reported on last week–in that case, the woman’s child was indeed stolen.)  Police have arrested both parties to the “baby sale,” and are now debating the future custody of the child.

Child trafficking is a serious problem in Bolivia and comes in a variety of forms, many a great deal more sinister than this case of a mother selling her child to a women who ostensibly wanted to raise it as her own.  What I would like to address, however, is not child trafficking, but another, far more prevalent problem in Bolivia: men’s abandonment of women with whom they have conceived children.  You see, when asked why she decided to sell her baby, the reluctant mother, Jesusa Molle, replied that, “she had been abandoned by her husband and could not afford to support the child.”  This comment–added as a sort of afterthought in this BBC article–in fact points to a ubiquitous crime in Bolivia.  Not surprisingly, those who commit it enjoy almost complete impunity.

For her crime, which will be labeled “child trafficking,” Molle, if convicted, will likely face years in prison.  And her husband?  The man whose actions may have contributed to this act of desperation will likely remain free.  Few know that Bolivia’s penal code stipulates a prison sentence of 6 months to 2 years (or a hefty fine) for men who abandon their families.  If the wife or girlfriend is pregnant at the time of the abandonment–and if she sells her child as a result–the man faces one to five years in jail. And yet, few men are ever punished for abandoning their partners and children.  In Bolivia, the impunity that these men enjoy is so common that the BBC reporter did not even find it relevant to mention that Molle’s abandonment also constituted a crime. And, I mean, why would you mention it?  In addition to being common, the abandonment of women and children is also simply not as flashy as baby selling.

I do not mean to condone or to defend Molle’s actions, although any woman who sells her infant for US$140 is clearly facing desperate circumstances. Instead, I would like to denounce the lack of impunity for those far more prevalent, albeit less “sexy,” crimes that often lead to acts of “child trafficking” such as this one.  Let’s place blame where blame is due: on Molle, yes, but also, on her husband.

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