The market for illegally trafficked human organs, including kidneys, livers, and lungs, is small but growing. Recent evidence suggests that some of the supply is provided by traffickers who specifically target migrants attempting to reach the United States. Criminology expert Jarrod Sadulski, an associate professor at the American Military University, testified before Congress about organ trafficking along major migrant smuggling routes, highlighting the involvement of juvenile organs.
Sadulski shared a case recounted by a rehabilitated gang member in Central America, involving the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy in Mexico for the purpose of harvesting his eye. The gang member revealed that someone paid $15,000 for the organ. Traffickers often frequent homeless places, shelters, encampments, and drug houses where families with children reside, offering money to parents to remove their kids from those environments, never to return with them.
While the exact size of the organ trafficking market is unknown, it is believed to be a fraction of the overall smuggling economy. Organizations involved in smuggling operations embed spotters within groups of migrants to identify vulnerable individuals who lack the funds to complete their journey. These individuals are then sold to traffickers for various purposes, including sex trafficking, forced labor, or organ harvesting.
According to a 2019 article in the American Journal of Biomedical Science & Research, the prices for organs on the black market vary. Kidneys range from $50,000 to $120,000, livers from $99,000 to $145,000, and lungs, hearts, and pancreases fetch even higher prices. The same article suggests that an eye can be sold for anywhere between $5,000 and $100,000, supporting the gang member’s claim of a $15,000 price tag.
The United Nations has labeled organ harvesting as one of the least known but growing forms of trafficking worldwide. The demand for organs far exceeds the limited supply, driving the market. However, the medical complexity of organ transplantation restricts the number of skilled doctors capable of performing such procedures.
Victims of organ trafficking tend to be individuals in acute vulnerability, including undocumented migrants, refugees, detainees, and those living in extreme poverty. While prosecutions of organ harvesters have occurred in the past, the extent of the horrors associated with organ trafficking is not yet fully known. Cases have been reported in North Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Europe, and Central America.
The testimonies presented by Sadulski and the gang member shed light on the personal motivations behind organ trafficking. Buyers may have family members in critical condition, willing to pay any price for their loved ones. Organ traffickers view this exploitation as a job opportunity.