World

Texas couple's ordeal exposes El Salvador's little-known infant trafficking market

The couple that accused an obstetrician at the private Centro Ginecologico hospital in San Salvador with swapping their child at birth in order to sell the infant exposed a little-known form of human trafficking.

England native Richard Cushworth and his wife Mercedes Casanellas, who was born in El Salvador, gave birth to a boy in May, but immediately suspected that the infant that was handed to them was someone else’s son.

Casanellas said just after the birth that she thought the child, whom they named Jacob, looked like his father, but the child given to her later did not. According to USA Today, the baby she took home from the hospital had a lot of hair on his head and a mole that she couldn’t remember having seen before.

"I would take photos of him and put them next to my husband, trying to find something of us in him," Casanellas told a Salvadoran TV reporter. "I kept trying to convince myself that he was really ours, that over time we would begin to see a resemblance. But my motherly instincts kept telling me that he wasn't mine."

A DNA test confirmed the couple’s suspicion, and, three months later, their biological child was found and returned to them.

In their desperation to get their child back, however, Cushworth and Casanellas suggested that the exclusive hospital and the doctor who delivered the child , Alejandro Guidos, may have been operating as part of an illegal child trafficking ring.

Guidos was arrested on suspicion of having snatched the baby, but Luis Martínez, the attorney general of El Salvador, declared that the switch was a simple mistake.  “We hope that this has not happened on other occasions,” he said, according to the Telegraph.

The snatching of newborns for illegal adoptions is a form of human trafficking that is much less studied and quantified than sexual and labor trafficking are, so it’s impossible to say just how prevalent the practice is.

Neighboring Guatemala was the epicenter of the practice in the 2000s, before its international adoption program was sanctioned by the United Nations. George Mason University professor Louise Shelley estimated in her 2010 book, “Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective,” that at its height, “approximately 1,000 to 1,500 Guatemalan babies [were] trafficked annually.”

A 2014 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report on human trafficking indicated that El Salvador was one of only a handful of Latin American countries that reported problems with illegal adoption or child-selling between 2010 and 2012.

And while it may seem unlikely that a respected hospital would be tainted by a trafficking ring, Shelley noted in her report that it does happen.

“Illicit adoptions are facilitated by many in the legitimate economy with respectable professions. Midwives often persuade poor mothers to sell their children, or deceive them by telling them that their babies have an illness or have died,” Shelley wrote in her report. “Sometimes they even drug mothers and steal their babies in order to sell them.”

Andrés López, a spokesperson for UNICEF’s Latin American operations, told Fox News Latino via e-mail that the agency’s officials in El Salvador were “waiting for the results of the investigation” that could determine whether this was an instance of attempted trafficking.

“We do not have additional information about this case,” he added.

For his part, the delivering doctor, Guidos, has maintained his innocence. After being released from jail, he told a reporter that, for him, a public apology from Cushworth and Casanellas and the police was no longer enough.

"They judged me and condemned me too soon," he said.

Meantime, Cushworth and Casanellas took their biological son home to Dallas, Texas. They re-christened him Moses, after the Biblical prophet who was sent downriver in a basket made of bulrushes by his biological mother.

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