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"So I let him have the rampion, I'd lots to spare
In return, however, I said 'fair is fair,
you can let me have the baby that your wife will bear'
And we'll call it square."
The Witch, Into the Woods

For one reason or another, cash isn't going to cut it for this transaction. Or perhaps a family doesn't have the cash needed to pay. Something else will surely suffice as payment. Something valuable, something priceless, like maybe... a child?

A subtrope of Parental Abandonment. This is when a parent is either forced to give their baby away or does so voluntarily in exchange for something else. Oftentimes this is a case of "you owe me your firstborn child" as part of a Deal with the Devil or Leonine Contract, although sometimes any child will do. If someone makes this deal with the intent on never paying up, expect a Mystical Pregnancy to force the debtor into doing it. Expect Deliberate Values Dissonance in societies or factions that regularly use children as a form of payment.

May overlap with Imperiled in Pregnancy, if the mother is captured and held until she gives birth as part of the deal. May lead to Changeling Fantasy. Compare Invasion of the Baby Snatchers (which deals with creatures that steal infants) and Switched at Birth (where babies are exchanged for one another). Compare Lost Him in a Card Game, where a person (sometimes a child) is bet instead of money and subsequently lost. Contrast Hostage Situation, where a baby is kidnapped to ensure the parents' compliance but is intended to be returned.

No relation to And Your Reward Is Parenthood. Note that this trope is for when infants and younger children are traded away for something else. While characters trading older children and teenagers still occurs in media, they do not fall under this trope.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Ranma : As it is revealed over the course of the series, one of Gemma Saotome's favorite cons during the time he took his son Ranma around Japan teaching him martial arts was to exchange Ranma (and/or the promise to betroth him to the daughter of whoever Genma was swindling) for random things he wanted (mostly food) and then running away. Two of the most notable examples are Ukyō Kuonji (who becomes a recurring character after coming for Genma's blood because he stole her family's yattai which was going to be the union's dowry) and the fiancée of the "Martial Arts Takeout" arc (who quite [in]famously became a fiancée for the price of a bowl of rice and two pickles, shocking everyone in the Tendō home when they heard it). A latter arc revolves around the revelation that Sōun Tendō pulled a similar scam on the French Chardin family when he was young. Understandably, Fanon tends to exaggerate this fact about Genma out the wazoo as a Fandom-Specific Plot.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In The Nix in the Mill-Pond, the titular water sprite offers a poor man money in exchange for the youngest thing on his property, which turns out to be his newborn baby.
  • Rapunzel ends up in the tower because her father promised a witch his firstborn in exchange for herbs from her garden.
  • Rumpelstiltskin. A dwarf helps a miller's daughter turn straw into gold and she offers one of her possessions the first two times he helps her out. After the third time, she has to promise him her firstborn daughter. Since she has no children yet, she promises this and forgets about it. The miller's daughter then marries the king, has a baby and Rumpelstiltskin reappears to collect.

    Fan Works 
  • The Sailor Moon fanfic All I Can Do has Nephrite make a Leonine Contract with Topaz. If she fully resurrects Naru, Naru must stay until she bears a son to give to Topaz as payment for her life.
  • Massively Multiplayer Crossover fic Blood and Revolution has Yukito's triplets taken away by a god when only a couple months old because, if they remain on Earth, they will grow up to be monsters in the coming insanity-inducing apocalypse.
  • The Implicit Neighs: In "The Meaning of Generosity", this is part of what the Orzhov do, implied as Work Off the Debt:
    Rarity: The contract clearly states?
    Filthy Rich: That if Ah cannot pay back the loan in cash, Ah can do so with mah firstborn son. Mah son. Now Ah know that contracts can be interpreted flexibly, but you cannot tell me my precious Diamond qualifies as a colt.
    [...]
    Rarity: I am a debt-foal, Mr. Rich, literally born to serve one of the Orzhov elite.
  • Played With in the Fairy Tail fanfic Obsessed. Elena, obsessed with killing powerful mage mothers and taking their children, used a spell to take an unborn child and impregnated herself with it before killing the mother. Months after she was caught she gave birth to a girl. Mest is present and after giving her a moment with the child then takes the girl away telling Elena she damn well knows the girl doesn't belong to her after she briefly protests. He then erases Elena's memory of himself before leaving. He delivers the child to Natsu and Lucy who just had another child of their own at that very moment. They decided to take the child in and play it off as a twin of their own to give her a loving family and hide her status away from the world.
  • Inverted Trope in Demon Alya AU, where after struggling to have kids, Marlena and Otis Cesarie made a Deal with the Devil: in exchange for being able to have kids they would be obligated to take care of two demons. They thus wound up acting as Alya's and Nora's 'parents,' providing them with the cover that the demons need to live in Paris without anyone wondering where they came from (although Alya has noted that Marlena is intimidating enough she actually can ground Alya despite Alya having various demonic powers and not really being her kid). Marlena and Otis were then able to have Etta and Ella, who are human. This ends up humanizing Alya and Nora in the process, with Alya deciding that Being Evil Sucks and enjoys having good friends like Marinette, while Nora becomes a Friend to All Children and even saves a few children's souls, despite claiming she doesn't like humans.
  • Played With in Miraculous Monsters, where the Dupain-Cheng family makes a deal with the demon Tikki to have children. Tikki agrees and creates Marinette for them. In return, Marinette will train as Tikki's apprentice.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Broker: The film is about brokers who try to sell an abandoned baby to adoptive parents for a large sum of money.
  • L'Enfant: Bruno sells his baby to try and make some cash, and doesn't realize this is a bad thing until he tells his girlfriend what he's done and she faints. The criminals he sold the baby to want him to pay them as much as they were expecting to make on the kid for him to get him back.
  • Faust: Love of the Damned: At the end, as Mephistopheles is torturing John for foiling his plans, Jade begs to let him go. He demands "the soul of your unborn child" for John's life. She reluctantly agrees to the deal, (wrongly) assuming that her infertility means he won't be able to collect.
  • Into the Woods includes the Rapunzel story, with a baby taken as payment for a man stealing from the witch's garden for his pregnant wife.
  • This trope kicks off the plot of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance when the main character is forced to give the antagonist her child and go to prison or risk the death of her daughter.
  • In Excalibur, Merlin agreed to help Pendragon disguise himself with an illusion spell to take on the appearance of his enemy Gorlois and bed Gorlois' wife Igrayne. In exchange, Merlin wants the first thing that comes out of that affair. That thing is their child - the future King Arthur.

    Literature 
  • In Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword, the heroine (pregnant by a man she does not know is her own brother) is tricked by the Father-God, Odin, into surrendering her newborn son to him. As the child is doubly cursed - born in incest and not yet christened - appeals to the Christian God are useless, as Odin well knows.
  • In Moacyr Scliar's "A Casa das Ilusões Perdidas",Translation  a man agrees to exchange his newborn child for a house. Though the mother is grief-stricken at first, she lightens up once they move in, declaring that they can use their new home to raise at least five children. The story ends with the husband cynically musing that "Five more houses sounds like a good start..."
  • Enchanted Forest Chronicles: In Searching for Dragons, Cimorene and Mendanbar meet a dwarf whose grandfather (implied to be Rumplestiltskin) set up a deal with a princess, asking for her firstborn and part of the gold he had to spin for her in return for his aid, but if she could guess his name, she could keep the baby. Then he let her find out his name, and everyone went home happy. His grandson continues the set-up, making the same deals, but every single girl he runs into is too stupid to find out his name, so he ends up with the baby and the gold. And he's getting really tired of getting more children (he likes them well enough, there's just too many of them).
  • N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy: Yeine learns that, before she was born, her mother traded her to the Enefadeh gods in exchange for curing Yeine's father's fatal illness. Rather than claim Yeine outright, they used her to incubate the dead Top Goddess Enefa's soul.
  • The Parasol Protectorate: In order to end the attempts on (then-pregnant) Alexia's life, her husband and Lord Akeldama agree that the baby will be adopted and raised by Akeldama. (It's political.) Alexia isn't pleased but finally agrees to the deal ... though she has regular contact with little Prudence.
  • The backstory (told in diary form) in the Point Horror story Funhouse features this. The parents of the protagonist and her friends practically ripped the local boardwalk out from a relatively poor entrepreneur, leading him to kill himself. His wife is too poor to raise the baby so one of the businessmen who took the boardwalk offers to buy the baby from her. Once she realizes what she's done, she kills herself. And the baby in question? Turns out to be the saboteur behind all the disasters befalling the protagonist's friends and he intends on killing both her and himself in revenge.
  • In For Biddle's Sake from The Princess Tales, the fairy Bombina demands that the parents of a child who will only eat parsley (the only parsley around grows in her garden) give the child to her. She privately thinks to herself that this will both punish the theft and make her come off better to the fairy queen, given that the situation could be spun as an adoption.
  • The Real Boy has an example with an older child. Callie was born on the east side of Aletheia, where there is no magic. Her younger brother Nico had a problem with his immune system, which the local healer couldn't do anything about. Her parents hired Mariel, the healer from the west side of the island, who told them that their son would need regular treatments from her in order to stay alive. They couldn't afford it, so Mariel agreed to treat Nico in exchange for taking Callie back to her village. Now Callie works as Mariel's apprentice. Mariel has told her that she can never go back to her family, or even contact them, or her brother will be allowed to die. Two years later, she learns that Mariel scammed her parents, and Nico is long dead.
  • In The Scholomance, a variation occurs: El winds up with the Golden Stone sutras—one of the most valuable books of lost spells in the world—and can't figure out why a semi-sentient spellbook would choose her, a wizard supernaturally gifted with destruction, to hold these extremely powerful spells of creation. In the third book, she learns why. Her mother and father attempted to summon the book to themselves, but were desperate to do so: all magic requires a "payment" of effort to work, but they left the payment open. They had not known that El's mother was pregnant at the time. While El herself obviously lived, she realizes that the horrible dark magical powers she's burdened with, and the prophecy that she will destroy the enclaves, must be the payment enacted. Her mother having doomed her daughter to a life of suffering in order to summon the book—as El muses, her mother hadn't even known at the time she had a daughter to pay with. However, there's a further twist: El wasn't the payment after all. She has horrible dark powers of destruction because she needs them in order to wield the Golden Stone sutras. She IS destined to use her great powers of destruction to destroy old enclaves... so she can build them back better than before.
  • Secret Histories: The Awful Truth behind the Drood family is that each member was born with a twin who was absorbed, body and soul, by the otherworldly entity that powers their signature magical armor. Fortunately, they find a replacement otherworldly entity with less objectionable demands by the end of the first book.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Craster and his daughters live deep in the Grim Up North where the frozen, omnicidal White Walkers haunt the woods. The price for his Keep's safety is the infant boys he fathers on his own daughters.
  • The Tale of Despereaux: Mig's father sells her to a crabby, cruel man to buy a few items such as a chicken and a red cloth from him. In the present day, he is shown to deeply regret having given up his daughter.
  • The Witcher: Hospitality dictates that a man who has saved another may invoke the Law of Surprise as reward, requesting either "the first thing that comes to greet you" or "what you find at home yet don't expect" as repayment. This is often children. Ciri became Geralt's ward this way. Lambert was recruited as a witcher after another witcher saved his father and claimed him.
  • Laird Barron's recurring villains of his Cosmic Horror Stories, known primarily as the Children of the Old Leech, and which most prominently feature in The Men from Porlock, The Broadsword, and The Croning, basically have this as their trademark way of sealing any bargains they strike with humans. The Children make it no secret whatsoever that they plan to eat the baby in question and that they mostly demand this price exactly because they know humans considers it a heinous act — they derive sadistic amusement from viewing a human squirm over the moral implications of agreeing to the price.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Comedy Central video parodying Mastercard commercials came out after the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series and featured Mastercard showing up to cash in on all the things people said they would give to see the Red Sox win the World Series. One clip sees a woman crying as her baby is taken while the dad cheerfully tries to console her by claiming it's totally fair, capping off the segment with "Go Sox!" (which the child being taken happily repeats).
  • In Da Vinci's Demons, Vanessa gives birth to the bastard son of the city's dead ruler and is pressured to immediately sign the baby over to his family.
  • Grimm: The Royals insist that Adalind give them her baby (conceived with a half-Royal bastard) to raise as a Royal. However, the Resistance kidnaps the baby from the Royals; but she doesn't know that the Royals don't have the baby, so she continues to do their bidding. When Adalind gets back to Austria, she finds out the hard way the resistance has her baby. Except that Nick's mom has hidden Adalind's baby to give her a chance to live an ordinary life.
  • The Magicians (2016) does a variation of this when Margo strikes a deal with the Fairy Queen in season 2 — in return, the fairies take her eye and her Platonic Life Partner Eliot's wife's baby.
  • Rumplestiltskin is a main character on Once Upon a Time, and this has played out twice with him:
    • In "The Price of Gold," he takes the place of Cinderella's Fairy Godmother and his price for helping her is her firstborn child. When she becomes pregnant, she has him magically imprisoned to try to get out of the deal, but this causes her husband to disappear. When the baby's time comes, birth is complicated until Emma makes another deal with Rumplestiltskin to release Cinderella; with the deal released, Cinderella is also reunited with her husband.
    • In "The Miller's Daughter," Cora makes a deal with Rumplestiltskin: He'll teach her to spin straw into gold in exchange for her firstborn. As they work together, they fall in love and Rumple amends the deal to their firstborn, which never happens because she marries someone else.
    • After Rumplestilskin's son, Baelfire was dying of an illness, Rumplestilskin made a deal with a healer to give him his future child if he were to save Baelfire. Even though he doesn't have another child until centuries later, the healer was Hades in disguise and he very much intends to collect.

    Myths & Religion 
  • One version of the Arthurian Legend has Morgwen give birth to her son Mordred, but since Merlin had expressly forbidden her from having a child, he puts the baby in a floating crib and lets it go down a river.
  • In The Bible (specifically the Books of Samuel), Samuel's mother Hannah prays to God for a son and promises that she will give him to the priests to raise when he's old enough. Sure enough, she gives birth to Samuel and keeps her promise. This is related to the Jewish practice of pidyon haben, "redemption of the firstborn", in which a priest is paid 5 silver shekels (or an equivalent value) to symbolically redeem a firstborn male child (it is considered unnecessary if the boy is preceded by a girl or a miscarriage, born by caesarean section, or the father is himself a priest).
  • Half's Saga: King Alrek of Hordaland resolves to divorce one of his two wives Signy and Geirhild because they are constantly squabbling with each other, and declares he will keep the wife who will brew him the best ale. When brewing, Geirhild calls on Odin to let her win the contest; Odin appears, spits into the yeast, and tells Geirhild he will come back "for what was between the tub and her". Geirhild's ale wins the contest, but it turns out Geirhild was pregnant and the thing "between the tub and her" was her unborn child. Many years later, when Geirhild's son Vikar is already an adult, Odin insidiously causes Vikar to be killed by hanging as a human sacrifice, thus collecting the prize promised to him.
  • Hindu Mythology says that the evil king Kamsa was told by a rishi that the seventh child of his chief advisor and his sister would kill him, so he locked them both in his prison and killed every baby they gave birth to. They managed to miraculously sneak away their seventh baby and give him to the father's friends in a village in the area, who eventually did grow to kill Kamsa. The baby's name was Krishna.

    Tabletop Games 

    Theatre 
  • In Blood Brothers, Mrs. Johnstone, desperate for money after discovering that she's got twins coming (she's already got seven other children), agrees to sell one of the unborn twins to her employer, Mrs. Lyons, who desperately wants a child. When the twins are born, Mrs. Johnstone has a change of heart, but Mrs. Lyons comes to collect the baby anyway.
  • In Into the Woods, the Baker's parents are forced to hand over his newborn sister Rapunzel to their neighbor The Witch as punishment for stealing magic beans from the latter's garden.

    Video Games 
  • Bioshock Infinite: Booker Dewitt's wife died in childbirth and shortly thereafter he lost his job and fell into debt. His only recourse was selling his daughter Anna when she was less than a year old to a man he discovers to be himself from another dimension.
  • GreedFall: Babies and young children are regularly used as a form of payment for the Nauts. Sometimes, governments will force families to give up their children in exchange for a contract with the Nauts. Other times, a noble family will give an infant as payment in exchange for their goods to be shipped to other countries — either of their own volition or as part of a Leonine Contract.
  • In The Outer Worlds, it's not unusual for a worker's children to be property of their employers. Downplayed for Parvati, who was raised by her engineer father, because the company decided her mother's skills (implied to be something along the lines of a software engineer) couldn't be spared. Implied to be played completely straight elsewhere, with children never knowing any family but the foster parents they were placed with to suit the needs of their employers.

    Web Comics 
  • Bug Martini: One of the potential solutions in the "Website Woes" strip is to sell your child to fix the server.
  • Oglaf: "Rattleplank" is a Rumpelstiltskin Parody that goes sideways when the woman proposes an alternative to her firstborn child:
    "Fft. If it's kids you want, I've got 20 chained up in my basement. You can have your pick."
  • The Order of the Stick: Played for Laughs in a Cutaway Gag showing why the Church of Loki's daycare service doesn't come highly recommended:
    Priestess: [pushing a baby onto the poker table] Call.
  • Sandra and Woo: Richard didn't Read the Fine Print on his internet provider contract, which includes a clause giving up the customer's firstborn child.
  • One Oh Joy Sex Toy guest comic (NSFW, for obvious reasons) has a human man make a deal with a fae to save his mother's life in exchange for his firstborn child. The fae is extremely confused and taken-aback when he drops trou right in front of her; for his part, the man assumed that this was what she meant when she said she wanted his firstborn and is extremely embarrassed when she reprimands him. Fortunately for them both the fae is amenable to this turn of events and the comic ends with the human introducing her to his mother as his wife.
  • Whale Star: The Gyeongseong Mermaid: Su-a was sold to the Yeo family as a five-year-old because her father had debts to the Yeo patriarch that he could not pay.

    Web Original 
  • A hoax news story that circulated the internet in 2016 claimed that a man tried to trade a baby, which he kidnapped from a park, for 15 Big Macs at a McDonald's restaurant.
  • SCP Foundation: When a man summoned the demonic entity SCP-3061-1 to bargain for wealth, it demanded his young son in return. When he immediately, enthusiastically accepted and offered to throw in his daughter, the demon gave up, since it couldn't tempt someone that amoral.
    SCP-3061-1: With like, zero remorse or uncertainty! Big scary demon pops up outa Tartarus or whatever the fuck you mortals like calling our world, and the guy agrees to the deal! One involving sending his child to a literal Hell!
  • Subverted in one Tumblr post where a human (gender unspecified) agrees to give their firstborn to a fey (gender also unspecified but presumably the opposite) in exchange for their mother's healing, then tells the fey to get on with it if they want that firstborn. The fey is confused at first, then blushes on realizing the implications.

    Western Animation 

 
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Bender gives the Robot Devil his firstborn son in exchange for an army of the damned.

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