How Big is the Illicit Trade?
A SIX-YEAR-OLD Chinese boy has had his eyeballs gouged out by a woman suspected of trying to steal his corneas to sell on the black market. The shocking attack has drawn attention to the dark underworld of illegal organ harvesting. Here’s what you need to know about the illicit trade:
What happened in China? The little boy, named locally as Binbin, was playing outside his home in Linfen, a city in the southern Shanxi province, when he was approached by a woman who told him: “Don’t cry and I won’t gouge out your eyes.” He was drugged and taken to a field where he lost consciousness. At this point she removed his eyeballs – using either her fingers or a crude mechanical device – leaving him covered in blood and screaming in pain, reports The Independent. He was found hours later by his parents. Investigators reportedly retrieved his eyeballs nearby, the corneas hadn’t been removed. Local media suggest the attacker might have been working for a larger criminal network specialising in the sale of stolen organs. A 100,000 yuan ($16,000) reward has been offered for the woman’s capture.
How does organ trafficking operate? The number of legitimate organs available for transplant worldwide has fallen, partly due to better road safety – fewer healthy young adults are dying in traffic accidents. Meanwhile, the number of people waiting for transplants has increased. As a result, organised criminals can make a fortune from unethical clinics who will buy organs for wealthy patients. Some victims are kidnapped and forced to give up an organ, while others are duped into believing they need an operation and the organ is removed without their knowledge. Some people sell their organs out of financial desperation, often seeing just a fraction of the profit, if anything at all, and placing their health at great risk.
How big is the problem? International organ trafficking is a growing trade. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around one in ten organ transplants involve trafficked human organs, which amounts to around 10,000 each year. Kidneys are the most commonly traded organ. A report by Global Financial Integrity estimates that the illegal organ trade generates between $600 million and $1.2 billion in profits a year. Patients might pay anything from $200,000 for a kidney to $1m for a heart.
Who is at risk? The United Nations says that people of all ages could become targets but migrants, homeless people and those who cannot read are particularly vulnerable. Children are often targeted, especially those from poorer backgrounds or those with disabilities.
Where does it happen? Donor countries include impoverished nations in South America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, according to a Harvard College study, while recipient countries include the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and Japan. Trafficking involves a whole host of offenders, from recruiters who identify the victims to transporters and hospital or clinic staff. Last year the Salvation Army revealed it had rescued a woman brought to the UK to have her organs harvested – which was thought to be the first case of its kind in this country.