Wednesday, September 24, 2008
"China eases restrictions on illegally adopted children" -- Really?
Guan Xiaofeng at the China Daily reported today that the CCAA has announced changes in the domestic adoption program in China, easing the burden of registering informal adoptions.
Guan's article states:
A new policy guideline eases the law on most illegally adopted children in China.
The legal rights of these children are currently not guaranteed such as permanent residence of a city, schooling and inheritance.
The guideline was jointly issued by five ministries on Sept 5, but made public on Monday.
It allows people to register their illegally adopted children without fear of punishment.
Ji Gang, director of the China Center of Adoption Affairs, said the number of illegal adoptions has been increasing rapidly in recent years.
"In less developed areas, the number of unregistered adoptions can be two or three times more than registered ones," he said.
"In big cities where people have a better knowledge of the law, the number of unregistered adoptions is fewer."
Shanghai, for example, between 1992 and 2000, had more than 7,000 registered adoptions and about 4,000 unregistered ones.
Ji said China has more than 20,000 registered adoptions every year.
To adopt a child legally in China, a person must be more than 30 years old, healthy, childless and with a good and steady income.
Those seeking registration under the new guideline will be exempt from these requirements except in the case where a single male parent is not more than 40 years older than the girl he has adopted.
If this is not the case, the man will be persuaded to surrender the child to a children's welfare institute.
The guideline also requires anyone who finds abandoned babies to hand them over to police in the first instance.
If the police fail to find their biological parents, the children will be handed over to local children's welfare institutions.
If people who find such babies meet the necessary requirements and want to adopt them, they will be given first priority.
"It means you can not take an abandoned baby home and then apply for adoption. They must be handed over to the authorities first," Ji said.
He said the guideline will help in the fight against trafficking of infants and children.
Many Western readers might interpret this announcement to be a significant change in policy, but many questions remain. Why, for example, is no Chinese version of this announcement to be found with Baidu (China's version of Google). Given the complete lack of broadcasting inside China of this policy change, it is difficult to see how this will be made known to China's citizens.
In order to understand what this announcement is trying to accomplish, we must first understand what happens in China when an unregistered child is taken in by a family. We will look at two situations: Registration of an over-quota child born to the parents, and registration of a foundling, not related to the parents biologically.
Registration of an Over-quota Child
Family Planning regulations require that all pregnancies be registered before delivery. When a pregnancy is registered, an ID card is issued for the unborn child allowing the family access to prenatal care, etc. This ID card will also be required later for public school registration, etc. Hospitals are required to inspect this ID card when approached for prenatal care, delivery, etc., but this is seldom enforced. Important to note is that if a family registers a pregnancy before delivery, the ID card is free.
There are many reasons for a family to not register a pregnancy, many of which revolve around over-quota children. Once a child is born, obtaining a registration card becomes more expensive and burdensome.
To obtain a post-delivery ID card for a child, the family must do the following:
Go to the local Civil Affairs Bureau and fill out registration paperwork. In addition, an over-quota fine will be assessed. Officially, this fine is 30% of a family's annual income, but in reality the fine varies wildly from one area to another, and from one family to another. My own personal experience shows the fine can be as high as 100,000 yuan or more in Guangdong (Nanhai), or as low as a 400 yuan dinner for the Civil Affairs official in Jiangxi. The fine is, for all intents and purposes, arbitrarily set by the local official, factoring in income, influence, etc.
Once approval for the registration is given, the family takes the Civil Affairs receipt and approval to their local police station, who assists in obtaining the child’s ID card.
Possible downsides to this process is that over-quota fees are usually larger than if registration is done as an adoption (see below). Additionally, a major downside to registering a child as an over-quota birth is that Family Planning may require sterilization surgery to prevent future over-quota children.
Registration of a Foundling Child
The process to register a "foundling" is similar to that described above, with important differences. The family appears at the Civil Affairs office seeking an adoption license. A fee will be imposed, but it is generally lower than the fine for an over-quota child. In this case, however, the Civil Affairs will determine if the family is qualified to adopt the foundling (30 years old, healthy, income, etc.) This might present significant barriers to many families, if they are low income, young, etc. The local orphanage is not involved in these registrations.
Thus, a Chinese family must weigh both options when faced with registering a child. If the child is a foundling, they can either present the child as their own or state that the child was found by them. Either option presents its own set of advantages and disadvantages. To register the child as an over-quota child may result in sterilization surgery and a high fine. If the child is a foundling, a visit to a local hospital might be required to obtain a birth certificate (often obtained by paying a small "gratuity"). Given the variable nature of the fines involved, Chinese families factor many different variables into their decision to register a child.
Today's announcement (I have seen it only in English) does not address the financial component of the problem. Unless the fees and fines for these unregistered children is greatly reduced, I fail to see why Chinese families will register their unregistered children en masse. For the average Chinese, nothing has really changed with the issuing of this directive.
Additionally, this directive does not take into account the intrinsic value of a foundling. Although admitting that the "number of illegal adoptions has been increasing rapidly in recent years," the CCAA fails to admit that the reason these adoptions have increased is due to increased trafficking and the burden of registering described above. "Requiring" finders to report a child to the police might look good to observers outside China, but the reality is that a foundling represents a significant reward for the finder -- either from an orphanage, trafficker, or a childless family. Nothing in today's announcement will alter that market reality.
I applaud the CCAA for seeking to resolve this problem, but more must be done. Some steps I would suggest include the following:
1) Broadcast the specifics of the policy, in great detail, so that it becomes widely known inside China.
2) Establish oversight to insure that a family that registers a foundling truly is given preference in the adoption of that child. This means reducing or removing the high adoption fees imposed local Civil Affairs officials and most orphanages. The registering family must be protected so that their child stays with them under virtually all circumstances.
3) Clearly communicate that Chinese families will be heard by the central government (CCAA) if violations to this directive are experienced. The CCAA must increase the confidence of China's citizens in this directive, otherwise long-seated suspicions will prevent most families from complying.
4) In addition to the requirement that citizens report foundlings to the local police, orphanages themselves must be required to report all foundlings brought to their doors. Currently, many orphanages file no police report when a child is brought to their facility, a situation the CCAA has turned a blind eye to. This allows orphanages to be susceptible to people bringing trafficked children to them, in addition to the risk of orphanage directors buying children directly from families and traffickers. Therefore, a requirement that all children be processed by the police will reduce (but not eliminate) these issues.
The current problem is fundamentally a result of a general fear and suspicion on the part of China's families toward the local Family Planning and Civil Affairs officials. This is a result of many experiences of arbitrary enforcement and capricious treatment of families in the past. In order for this directive to have an impact in solving problems, more must be done to assure families that they will be dealt with forthrightly and judiciously.