Freeing Slaves: Book Review of Child Catchers

This week, we’re highlighting the interconnectivity between adoption and human trafficking. Unfortunately, the anti-trafficking field can overlook this connection, and many children are being trafficked into the adoption system.
VJN member Kristina Gentner offers her review of The Child Catchers, a book that she has found to offer a wealth of perspective and resources for both anti-trafficking practitioners and the church. Kristina is a lawyer and a member of the Vineyard Christian Church of Evanston and the Christian Legal Society. She can be contacted at kristinagentner[at]

Kathryn Joyce’s The Child Catchers, describes trafficking of children into adoption and takes a strong critical lens to where Christian organizations have failed to act or played a part in unethical adoption practices. Well-meaning adoptive parents have found themselves victims of a corrupt system transporting trafficked children with falsified documentation into the US. On the other side of the world, among other horror stories, families are told their children (who never return) are going to “boarding school” in the US. Gaping holes in regulatory safeguards have allowed corruption to flourish and stolen children to immigrate to the US.

The question is: what exactly are we, the Church, going to do about this problem? The Church must act in the face of this human tragedy. Failing to act, or reacting defensively to The Child Catchers damages the witness of the global Church and perpetuates the problem. The following is a summary of relevant issues (some, but not all of which are described in The Child Catchers) and suggested action steps to address the issues and strengthen the Church’s witness.

Christian anti-human trafficking groups have left trafficking into adoption almost entirely unaddressed.

Steps for the anti-trafficking movement:
Include the problem of trafficking into adoption to the agenda of the anti-human trafficking movement. Expose the injustice occurring globally and implement ministry activity to uncover and stop it wherever it occurs. Educate potential adoptive parents of the risks and reality of children being trafficked into adoption.

Issues: Any non-profit entity overlooking clues or obvious facts of human trafficking into adoption is at risk of playing a part in endangering children and families, victimizing adoptive parents, creating legal and ethical liabilities for its own ministry and damaging the credibility of the global Church. US statutes and treaties in place have proven to be inadequate safeguards to addressing the trafficking of children into adoption. Offering adoption without first offering support for parenting is cruel and undermines the commandment: Honor your father and your mother. The pro-life movement loses credibility as being pro-family when its first response to an unplanned pregnancy is to offer to take the child away from his/her parent(s).

Steps for adoption agencies:
Create and implement robust procedures crafted by a team of experts designed to catch red flags noticeable by adoption agencies. Submit to rigorous external audits. Lobby for better safeguards against trafficking of children into adoption. Exceed accreditation and legal requirements by leading best practices against trafficking and holding foreign partners to the same standards. Train pregnancy counselors to point mothers toward practical resources and support for parenting first as a viable option. Never pressure parents to voluntarily surrender parental rights. Support partnerships with organizations like Safe Families for Children that help keep families together by caring for families in crisis, including mothers with unplanned pregnancies.

Issues: Today’s American Church has often overlooked the realities of relinquishment of children in its zeal to promote adoption both in the US and internationally. Failure to offer capable natural parents support and resources to be parents has contributed to a culture that sees separation of families as normative. Recent history when single mothers were pressured to surrender children to adoption still affects the value system of the Church.

Steps for the Church: Examine Scripture and create a Bible-based value statement and approach where relinquishment of a child, like divorce of a spouse, is permissible but not promoted. Empower parents to be parents. Empower ministries to single parents. Promote families’ abilities to stay together. Support international efforts that help families stay together like World Vision and Compassion International. Partner with organizations like Safe Families for Children that help keep families together by caring for families in crisis, including mothers with unplanned pregnancies. Never pressure parents to voluntarily surrender parental rights.

Joyce’s book has brought trafficking in adoption into a greater light and called the world and the Church to accountability about it. The Church, adoption agencies, and the anti-trafficking movement must take steps to address the issues, stop the abuses and implement a Biblical response that will not stay silent in the face of this human tragedy.

You can listen to an NPR interview with the author, Kathryn Joyce, here.

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