Is It a Crime to Sell a Baby?

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The News and Observer reported last week that “Duke University police arrested a Louisburg woman . . . for attempting to steal an infant [from] Duke Hospital.” It sounds as though she’s been charged with abduction of children in violation of G.S. 14-41. (I speculate that she wasn’t charged with kidnapping because of a concern that she did not have any of the six purposes listed in G.S. 14-39.)

Although the story involved an attempt to steal a baby, not to buy one, it reminded me of a question that comes up from time to time: is it a crime to sell a baby? The answer appears to be “sometimes.”

  • If the seller intends that the child be “held in involuntary servitude or sexual servitude,” then the seller is engaging in human trafficking in violation of G.S. 14-43.11.
  • If the seller intends to relinquish the child “for adoption,” then the seller is violating G.S. 48-10-102, which makes it illegal to “request, receive or accept any money or anything of value . . . for . . . the placement of a minor for adoption.” Showing that the sale is intended to be “for adoption” may be difficult, however.
  • If neither of the above applies, the situation becomes murky and fact-bound. In some cases, perhaps one could argue that the seller is guilty of nonsupport under G.S. 14-322 or G.S. 49-2; or of contributing to the abuse or neglect of a minor under G.S. 14-316.1; or of misdemeanor child abuse under G.S. 14-318.2 (for “creat[ing] . . . a substantial risk of physical injury” to the child). But there are no cases applying these statutes to the sale of a baby, and it may be difficult to overcome a claim by the seller that he or she believed that the baby would be treated well by the buyer.

If anyone is aware of other relevant statutes, or if anyone knows of a federal law other than the sex trafficking laws, please post a comment or send me an email.

As an aside, some other jurisdictions do have statutes expressly prohibiting the sale of children. See, e.g., Md. Code, Crim. Law § 3-603 (“A person may not sell, barter, or trade, or offer to sell, barter, or trade, a minor for money, property, or anything else of value.”); S.C. Code § 16-3-1060 (“No person may sell or buy a minor child.”).

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