How Much Is That Baby in the Window? A Q&A with Scott Carney, Author of ‘Red Market’

May 9th, 2012  |  by  |  Published in Health and (Un) Safety, Q & A, Travel  |  3 Comments

Another day, another horrific news story out of China: Apparently, unsavory folks in the People’s Republic are turning dead babies—aborted fetuses and stillborn infants, mostly—into powder and pills, to be sold to… I don’t know. Crazy people in South Korea? Says the always trustworthy Daily Mail:

The South Korean Customs Service said today that it had heightened its searches of suspicious packages being brought into the country by travellers from China in an attempt to stamp out the sickening trade.

According to customs agents, 35 smuggling attempts have been made since August last year involving more than 17,000 capsules disguised as ‘stamina boosters’.

Curious about the subject, I turned for insight to my friend Scott Carney, whose recent book, Red Market, explores in depth the international trade in human body parts (and human beings).

What do you know about these Chinese baby pills?

Only what I’ve read in that article. There have been stories out there for years that the Chinese use human body parts in their medicine, but not a lot of grounded facts. And the story raised more questions than it answered.

Such as?

First of all: how do we know the pills are human in origin? How do we know they were from babies? As far as I know there is no sceintific test that would affirm a child who was turned into a powder.

They border guards found something, but who is to know for sure what.

It reminds me of the Peruvian fat smugglers. There was a report that people were being killed for their fat and then the fat was being sold to a Russian beauty product company. The BBC reported on it, as did many other news sources.

It turned out to be a hoax. The police were trying to cover up corruption allegations with a fantastical smuggling story losely based on fight club.

That’s always been my strategy for avoiding trouble, too.

I think it was the plot for the last season of “The Wire” as well

Another question is this: there were 17,500 pills found. how many babies is that?

That was my next question.

One? Two at the max? It depends on what part of the baby you are using. I’m guessing that if you used the whole child then it would be not very many. So that raises the question of why bother smuggling in the first place? You can kidnap and kill a single child in china with much less risk than killing one abroad and smuggling it in. The whole story just doesn’t add up.

How about this: You know body-part smugglers as well as anyone. If you were going to turn babies into powder, how would you do it? Would you turn the whole kid into powder, or would it be better to have baby-kidney powder, baby-liver powder, baby-heart powder? “Better” meaning “more profitable.”

Well, if I were really savvy, I would use an inert substance. Or a dog. Who is to know if it was a real baby? Who is going to complain?

You mean there’s no trust among body-part smugglers?

The more I think about it the less the story actually makes sense. The markets that I’ve looked at the body parts were always discernable. IE: a kidney moving across borders, a human egg, a bone etc. When you actually grind something into powder it’s actual humanness seems to matter less.

That said, it is technically possible. And there are a lot of weirdos out there.

Isn’t that what they do with rhino horns, though?

Rhinos are harder to come by than babies.

Though, there are a lot of magical markets for human body parts. Think about the albinos in parts of africa that are killed to be eaten. There is a fairly robust trade in albino genitals as I understand it.

Oh really?


What do albino genitals cost?

Good question. How much do you have?

I’m a writer—not much.

We can talk once you get paid.

How about this: Is my child more valuable live and intact, divided into transplantable organs, or ground to a powder? She is 3 and a half years old, and weighs about 35 pounds, depending on whether she’s pooped recently.

How many milligrams is she?

About 16 million milligrams, or 16 kg.

What is 40% of 16 kg? That would be her dry weight.

6.4 kg

So that is the mass that you would have to make powder out of. Let’s say your pills were 500 mg each.

That’s 12,800 pills.

Ah, so the border guards got approximately 1.5 babies, if they were being legit.

Did they say what the street value of the pills was?

The article didn’t say. It also didn’t give mgs.

Well, 500mg is a good guess.

I bet you would make more selling her on the adoption market

What would she go for? Mixed white-Asian baby, great health, 3.5 yrs old.

At least $50,000.

Are some national baby markets better than others?

The US and Europe will get you the most cash. But also the most red tape.

What about if we sold her off organ by organ?

That would be difficult to do in America, since most doctors would not be into it unless she was brain dead. But in Brazil it happens. So the question is, what does a Brazilian organ transplant cost? Then figure you would get about 10% of that, at the very best.

It’s probably better to be in the kidnapping business there so you can fulfil bulk orders.

However, if you found a person in America whose child was dying of organ failure, and your kid was a match, then you would have some real bargaining power. Possibly millions.

Wow. So, in a perfect scenario, I’d find dying American kids who needed each and every one of Sasha’s organs.

The plan would be to fly you and the kid to another country and have the operation in, say, Sao Paolo. It would come down to a function of what the buyers were willing to pay. There is no set price for organs. The real question is what is that child’s life worth to their parents? If Sasha was dying of liver failure, how much would you pay to save her (assuming you weren’t troubled by the ethics)?

Pretty much everything, obviously. Historically, what have parents paid for such things?

Sadly they generally don’t report the buying price to me. I keep asking the organ brokers to file annual reports but they never comply.

I understand: paperwork. Yeesh.

Child organs are a niche market. And their value is a function of the parent’s willingness to pay and their means.

A niche market that is more lucrative than the adult one, or less?

Yeah, definitely. A child skeleton sells for 2 – 3 times an adult skeleton. For a great child skeleton, it might go for $10,000. Maybe $15,000.


But that would be the top end. On the low end, maybe $4,500 on the current U.S. market. So you would be better to sell her whole than in powder.

My guess is that if the Korea story is legit that they procured the child for $0. By just taking a body from a morgue or killing one. Maybe a $100 bribe was paid somewhere.

Okay, so if I wanted to maximize Sasha’s value, I would:

Sell her piecemeal.

Start with her hair.

Then harvest some skin and her corneas.

Go for the internal organs.

Keep her alive as long as possible.

But first find buyers.

Finally reduce her to bones and sell those.

Her marrow might be valuable as well.

I wonder if it would be possible to make her start producing human eggs with the right hormones. It probably wouldn’t be good for her. But it might be possible.

And everything else we turn to powder? And turn the powder into pills?

Sure. But the powder is going to have low margins.

True, but we’re talking about the leftovers. What else are you going to do with that stuff?

Besides, you’ve sold almost everything else. I figure you’d want to get rid of the evidence somehow. So if you’re setup to make powder then go for it. But it would be a pain to sell it. You might have to travel to China. Or at least Chinatown.


  1. Lani says:

    May 14th, 2012at 4:35 pm(#)

    This is hysterical. I love a good and dark child story. And to think I stopped telling “sell-my-2nd-child-on-ebay” jokes because of the sour pusses I got. I knew I wasn’t the only parent in the world who could love their kid and still enjoy a morbid chuckle at their expense.

  2. Matt says:

    May 14th, 2012at 4:38 pm(#)

    It’s good to know that you and I are not alone, Lani! Except, of course, that you and I actually are alone, the Earth’s sole chucklers at morbid baby jokes.

  3. Lani says:

    May 19th, 2012at 4:29 pm(#)

    Meh. They don’t know what they’re missing.

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