Not all couples who would be good parents are lucky to have a child. And not all children who deserve a family have one. Many of them spend their entire childhood in orphanages all over the Czech Republic. While adoption may not be an attractive option due to bureaucracy and long-term commitments, a project launched in 2010 decided to follow a rather unconventional path.
This website is basically an e-shop. Parents who wish to spend an afternoon, a weekend or even a holiday with a child can now find them neatly listed online in a catalogue, with a brief description and a photo. Children can be filtered by age and other criteria. Finalizing the deal is a breeze: Just put the child of your choice into the basket and click the check-out button. The service is, of course, free of charge.
So, what are you waiting for? Check out the kids at www.rent-a-baby.cz.
If you haven’t figured out by now: The website rent a baby is not real and the displayed children are invented. The whole project is the work of an artist, as she explains directly on the website:
Rent-a-baby is an art project at the border between reality and fiction. The ideas were authored by Jana Štěpánová. The e-shop emerged as a critical reflection on the lives of children who have been taken away from their parents and placed in the care of local authorities in the Czech Republic, and on the actual chances of such children to return to their families.
Štěpánová particularly sought to draw attention to the fact that the Czech Republic had the highest percentage in the EU of small children (up to 3 years old) who have been taken away from their parents and placed in residential care. The decision is made by a court, based on the sole expertise of a social worker, and action can be taken in a matter of hours. Returning the children, however, can take up to 2 years, says Štěpánová.
The impact of her project that was funded by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs as part of an exhibition, was quite different than expected: The then director of the department of family policy at the very same ministry, Klára Vítková Rulíková, decided to file criminal charges against the artist, accusing her of trade with children, privacy issues and infringing upon the rights of other people. While being fully aware of the fictional nature of the whole project and even citing the disclaimer on the website in the charges, Rulíková demanded a harsh punishment:
The operation of the website rent-a-baby-cz must under any circumstances be considered a serious and dangerous crime, whatever be the motives of their author.
Being accused of child trafficking, the author was naturally full of fear to lose the right of custody for her own baby. Luckily, however, the criminal complaint backfired and Czech media began to report about the project and its background. The charges were dropped and Mrs. Rulíková removed from office, opening the way for a change of policy.
I learned about this story on the Barcamp (un)conference in Prague where the author gave a presentation – a story about social issues, the power of art, ministry officials, and media work.