Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Why the Wait?

Having watched the time from DTC (Dossier-to-China) to referral ebb and flow over the eight years since my first adoption, I have not paid too much attention to waiting families' questions regarding when they will get "the call." But lately, I have been getting quite a few e-mails from families asking my opinion as to why the wait times are increasing. What follows is my opinion as to why wait times have been increasing since last fall.

First, it is important to keep the recent fluctuations in wait times in perspective. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Ralph Stirling, we can all see how long families have had to wait in the past.1 What is interesting to note is that the last time families had to wait this long for their referrals was late 2002, when referral wait times were coming down from a peak wait time of over 14 months reached earlier that year. The referral "moving average" hasn't reached that peak yet, so I guess the good news is that things have been worse.

But there are some very important forces at work this time that spell longer wait times, at least in the near term. A lot was made about the controversy over whether Hunan was closed to adoptions following the baby-trafficking story in November 2005. It is interesting to note that the finding ads in Hunan, the first step made by the Civil Affairs offices in each city to place a child in the international adoption pool, stopped completely in December 2005. The CCAA announced the completion of its investigation into the Hunan episode in March 2006, and finding ads again appeared in mid-April.

Hunan, along with Jiangxi and Guangdong Provinces, contributes a majority of the children adopted internationally. It seems likely that although a small number of Hunan referrals have been received in the past few months (all of which had finding ads published prior to December 2005, and thus "in-process" when the story broke) that we will not see significant numbers of Hunan referrals over the Summer. Given the number of children usually assigned from Hunan, this can be a significant factor in the lengthening wait times.

The CCAA has answered questions concerning the increasing wait times with an explanation of the declining number of children being abandoned in China. This is also certainly true, and also will have an effect on the wait times. In fact, as my next blog essay on the availability of adoptable children in China will show, over the long term the decline in abandonments will have a much more significant impact on China's international adoption program than the increasing wait times we have most recently been experiencing.
1. All graphs created by Ralph Stirling, and are used with his permission.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Haunting Faces on a Page

As one scans the finding ads published for the children being placed for adoption, one sees a sea of infant faces. The vast majority of the ads published are for infant girls under one year of age, sometimes just a few weeks old. It is easy to scan over the many faces quickly without giving them much of a thought.

It is the older children that make you pause -- that force your eyes to stop and look at the photo printed on the page. These children bring the questions to mind: Why was she abandoned at such a relatively old age? What must she be going through? Will she find a home? The images linger in your mind, and haunt you with unanswered questions.

But the most unsettling of all are images of another kind – not the children found on the street or in front of the orphanage, but the ads for children for whom the Police are seeking families. "Zhao Yi, a girl, one and a half years old, was sent back to Kunming on 8/1/04 from Guangdong Province. She is a kidnapped baby." These are the ads of abducted children, sometimes found great distances away, and who desperately are trying to find their way home.

Baby abduction and trafficking are big problems in China. One estimate is that over 1,000 children are kidnapped each year in China, but this is no doubt a very conservative estimate (http://www.humantrafficking.org/countries/china). A small percentage are found and rescued by police, but the majority are never heard from again. A large percentage of those that are rescued are never reunited with their families, and end up in area orphanages to be adopted to strangers.

On October 28, 2003 police in Xinxiang City in Henan Province retrieve seventeen children, ranging in ages from a few months old to four years old. Initially cared for at the Xinxiang orphanage, police track the origins of the children to Guiyang in Guizhou Province. Through interviews with the traffickers, police learn that one of the children, a two year old boy, had been sold to a family for 12,000 rmb. Another one-year old boy had been sold for 13,000 rmb. A one-year old girl had brought 5,000 rmb, as had an infant girl. A four-year old boy had traded hands for 15,000 rmb.

Fifteen of the children were brought to the Guiyang orphanage, arriving on December 29, 2003. The orphanage had prepared beds and clothes for the children. Police posted finding ads in area newspapers, but no one came forward. Their future is unknown, and if unclaimed they will be processed for adoption by the Guiyang orphanage (Guizhou City Daily, 12/31/03, p. 30).

On August 20, 2003 an off-duty policewoman alerted Security on train K207 traveling from Chengdu to Qingdao (Shangdong). Security Police learn of 11 babies in compartment #18 of the train, the oldest was over a year, youngest under a week. At 3:12 am the train arrives at Huaifeng (Shangdong), and 50 police raid the train, having only 6 minutes to arrest and retrieve the children. The children are sent to the Huaifeng City orphanage.

Six days later, on the same train, a Security person was alerted to two women transporting kidnapped babies in cabin 13 – one boy and a girl 2 months old. Two more are discovered in the next compartment (14). A total of eighteen children were eventually discovered (Ibid., 9/14/04, p. 13).

In a single six-month period, the "Guizhou City Daily" newspaper reported six trafficking stories involving over 100 children from Yunnan, Guangxi, Guangdong, Guizhou, Henan and Fujian Provinces. Most of the stories were printed in an attempt to locate families. Not all of the children had been kidnapped, but many had been. In most cases the children ended up in orphanages, their families unable to be located.