Sunday, December 17, 2006

Big Changes in China

The international adoption community has greeted the soon-to-be-announced changes in China’s international adoption program with derision and disdain. Many families are expressing anger and frustration that they will be unable to adopt, or adopt again, from China. While such anger is understandable, and I sympathize greatly with the many families who will be disenfranchised by the new regulations, I think it is helpful if we take the longer view.

The U.S. State Department has issued their fiscal year-end report on the number of immigrant visas that were issued in 2006 to adopting families. They reported that in 2006, 6,493 visas were issued, an 18% decline from 2005's number of 7,906. I believe this decline can be directly attributed to the Hunan stoppage, which still has not completely rectified itself. But is is also interesting to note the number of visas that were issued to other countries.

Russia fell from the number two exporter of children to the U.S. by declining 21% from 4,639 in 2005 to 3,706 in 2006. This continues a decline that began in 2004, and Russia is down almost 40% from its peak. Korea, Ukraine and several other "smaller" countries also saw declines. In fact, of the four main international adoption participants, only Guatemala saw a substantial increase.

Thus, it seems likely that China did see an increase in the number of families applying for adoption in 2006, as families migrated from the Russian and other programs to China. This increase, coupled with the significant decline in available children, resulted in a perfect storm, and increased wait-times have been the result.

China has responded to this by imposing restrictions that will decrease the number of eligible families by 25-30%. Although these restrictions are painful to those made ineligible, it is completely within China's prerogative to do so. From China's point-of-view, these changes will provide better opportunities to her children. One can only ask why these new restrictions were not announced earlier.

But many families wonder if the children that would have been adopted by the International Adoption community will now be prevented from being adopted. "Won't these children," families ask, "be left to live in the orphanages instead of finding loving homes?"

I don't believe so. As I reported earlier this year, the vast majority of orphanages (93%) reported having a waiting list of domestic families willing to adopt children. Many of these families have been deprived of children as a result of the financial and philosophical biases on the part of orphanage directors towards international adoption. With the new regulations and the corresponding decrease in international adoptions, more children will be made available for domestic adoption. This is a good thing.

China is rapidly changing. As economic prosperity spreads among her people, financial pressures and cultural traditions are declining, resulting in a marked decrease in the number of children being abandoned. As a people struggling to be viewed as a "first-world" country, China must balance its need for financial benefits from the International Adoption program against the decrease in stature that same program has on the world stage. Families must recognize China's right to make changes, and respect that the changes that are made are done with a careful eye to the long-term benefit of her children.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Myth of the Mourning Birthmother

I watched her face as she sat across the table from me; it showed no discernable emotion, although her story was a tragedy in every sense of the word.

She described how two years ago she had come to drop off a four-year-old girl at the local orphanage. "I had married a man who already had a daughter," she related, "and so if we wanted to have our own children, I needed to get rid of my daughter." Her "daughter" was a girl she had ostensibly found on the street at a few days old and cared for, as a single mother, for four years. Pressured by her new husband, they had both brought the four-year-old to the orphanage and turned her in as a foundling.

A week later the couple had second thoughts on the wisdom of their actions and returned to the orphanage to retrieve the child. They were told it would cost them 5,000 yuan to do so. Incensed at the orphanage's apparent crassness, they refused and walked away, never to return. The four-year old was later adopted by an American family.

Many adoptive families presume that the abandoning of their child by her birth parents is accompanied by pangs of guilt and remorse. We envision the birthmother watching the abandoned child until discovery is made, tears streaming down her face. We imagine that they deal daily with the guilt of this abandonment, and anxiously wait for the day when they might miraculously receive word that the child is doing well and being loved by a family.

For the rural farmers of China that compose 70% of its population, children are viewed as a two-edged sword. At once creating a drain on precious family resources for food, medical and educational costs, they are also viewed as essential for aged care and family-name perpetuation. Additionally, there is the obvious benefit in providing farm labor.

But the thin line of existence that the majority of Chinese live on, especially in the countryside, has created a culture where love for a child, as we know it here in the West, is hard to come by. Children are seen as serving functions, not birthed for their own sake. It is hard to express the subtle difference, so perhaps an illustration might help.

When I interviewed the two birthmothers last year, both matter-of-factly recounted their stories. There was no tears of remorse, although both expressed some regret that they had abandoned their children. Both acknowledged that if confronted with the same situation again, they would abandon their child again. Neither birthmother was very emotional when recounting her story, but rather showed a sense of consignment. They did what had to be done in both of their situations.

Another example originates in my own family. My wife comes from a farm family of five girls, and each of those girls was at one time or another offered to another family to raise. It started when the oldest daughter was two years old. A local childless couple befriended my wife's parents and was affectionate to my in-laws only child. My wife's parents felt that this childless family could provide a better life than they could, so they offered their daughter to this couple to raise; their only request being that the couple retain their child's family name instead of renaming her. The childless couple refused, and after a few months of caring for this girl they returned the child to my wife's parents. A similar scenario would be repeated for each successive daughter, for different reasons but with the same outcome.

It is also interesting to note that a large percentage of families in China turn over raising of their child(ren) to the grand-parents, while the husband and wife work. For many of these families, the child is with her parents for only a small percentage of the time each year, most especially during New Year's.

Personally, I could not imagine ever giving up my child to another to raise, but then again I don't live in the same financial state that my in-laws did, or that most Chinese families are in. Perhaps if my daily struggle was to simply exist, I would see beyond my own emotional needs for love to the long-term life-opportunities of my child. I don't say the long-term happiness of my child, because I don't think for most Chinese "happiness" is the driving factor in their decisions. Rather education, quality of life, and simple existence seem to be important.

There was no emotional regret in any of these stories, simply an acceptance that life required these decisions. No apologies, no tears, no looking back.

I'm not saying that the Chinese don't love their children, but it is not often the emotionally-invested love that we in the West feel. It is a practical love. It is not a love shown by touch or words, but through deeds. If you love your child in China, you demonstrate it by acts. My wife has never heard the words "I love you" from her parents or siblings, and no one I have met in China has acknowledged saying it to their children or hearing it from their parents. Love is shown by the fixing of a favorite meal, the knitting of a sweater or pair of gloves, or by giving the child to another family to raise in order for the child to have a better life.

Of course each family is different. I have met many Chinese families that coddle their children in love as much as I coddle mine. But speaking generally, I believe that it is dangerous for adoptive parents to project their own emotions onto women in China. When a birthmother is faced with the "unfortunate" birth of a girl, she will do what is viewed to be in the best interest of that child -- the girl will be taken to a family with all boys, or a childless family, or left to be found and brought to the orphanage. It is an act that is understood, and done with little fanfare and emotion. "It had to be done," they might very well answer us if we could ask them why. I believe for most birth mothers, it is felt and recognized that it has to be done, and it is accomplished with little emotion and less regret than we living here in the West often imagine.

I have been the adoptive parent for my daughter Meigon for four years, the same length of time as the woman I interviewed in the opening to this essay. I ask myself if I would ever be willing to bring her to an orphanage in order that I might find favor in the eyes of a woman. I can truthfully say that I would sooner remain single all my life than lose my daughter. That the woman above was able to leave her adoptive daughter at an orphanage is incomprehensible to me. Truthfully, that any woman would leave her child on the street, at a hospital, or at the orphanage is difficult for me to comprehend. I can pretend to understand it, but in the final analysis I am simply forced to project my heritage, my culture, and my emotions onto her. So, while we may try to tell our children that their birth mothers loved them, that they regret having had to give them up, that they probably think about them everyday, in the end it is all our projection. It is what we would do if we were in their situation.

As adoptive parents we should be careful before we assert emotions to our children's birthparents that might be simply our own projections or assumptions. I believe it can be damaging to our children to communicate feelings we think their birthparents had, which possibly they didn't, or don't have. To tell our children, for example, that their birthparents miss them, love them, etc., is simply communicating what we might feel, but does not necessarily communicate the reality of the birthparents. In all probability, they have moved on, looking to the future, and not dwelling on the past.

Culturally that is what they are taught to do.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

China's "Boy Imbalance"

A shortened version of this essay was originally posted to A-P-C July 3, 2004, following the release of National Geographic's documentary, "Lost Girls of China".

Much has been written about the growing imbalance between male and female children in China. Official estimates show the surplus of males growing to 25 million by 2030. China has reacted to this problem by instituting several gender-biased programs such as the recent "Care for Girls" program.

But is this imbalance as serious as so many here in the West believe? And is it as serious as the Chinese Government would have its citizens believe? Before answering these questions, let's first look at how the Western media is presenting this problem. I take as a case-study Lisa Ling's "National Geographic Explorer" segment on China and its adoption program, entitled "Lost Girls of China".

Lisa spends considerable energy furthering the misconception regarding China's male "imbalance". Granted, much has been written in the West about the imbalance and its implications for China, but several key things have not been considered in the discussion. Having traveled and lived in China a large percentage of my time over the last six years, I offer you additional facets of this problem.

Lisa spends a little time on the apparent kidnapping of women for sale as "wives" to men "unable to find wives", ostensibly due to a shortage of women due to the one-child policy. In reality, the kidnapping problem has absolutely nothing to do with the one-child policy, a surplus of males, or any other demographic imbalance. It has everything to do with economics: the men who are paying for kidnapped wives are in China's lowest economic segment. Women in China, just like their counter-parts in the West, seek to improve their economic status through marriage. A man with no job, no money, and no future (a key driver in women seeking marriage) will find it very difficult to find a woman willing to marry. Sometimes (and admittedly it is very infrequent) these economically disadvantaged men will act illegally and kidnap a woman to act as his wife. Although this occurs infrequently, it has nothing to do with an imbalance between men and women in China. It is important to remember that prior to the imposition of the one-child policy in 1980, the ratio of men to women was about equal. Thus, the first "children" of the policy are just now reaching the age where they are marrying and having children themselves. In a country the size of China's, it is simply not possible for the population to have shifted so dramatically so quickly that wives are already scarce. In another two decades the imbalance is projected to be 25 million men, or only about 1.6 percent of the entire population. With China's divorce rate at 21% and rising, this small surplus should have no problem finding marriageable partners among the singles and the nearly two million females joining China's divorced population each year.

Lisa also interviews school kids and asks them if there are more boys and girls in their school. Again, this is a very imperfect indicator, since China does not have a "free" public education program. Each parent must pay fees for their children in school (a powerful incentive to obey the one-child policy), and many families, especially in the poorest areas of China, are not able to afford to send their children to school. In this case, there is a preference to males, since it is logically assumed that boys will be able to utilize an education more than girls. Many girls are thus absent from the schools.

Additionally, in the upper "optional" grades after ninth grade, many of the girls drop out to look for work. This was borne out in an interview I had with the high school daughter of a Jiangxi orphanage director. I asked her if there were more boys than girls in her school. She replied that in the lower grades there had been more girls than boys, but now there were fewer girls because so many had left to seek work in the city.

For my part, I have surveyed scores of elementary aged classes, and never seen an imbalance. Neveretheless, I recognize that classroom surveys are a very faulty indicator of population ratios.

So, what is really going on here? Does China have a population imbalance or not? In order for an imbalance to develop, female children would need to be removed from the population. This can be done in two ways: prenatally, or post-natally. The most likely means of removing unborn girls from the population is through abortion. The problem with this solution, however, is that few doctors will disclose the sex of a child to a couple. Lisa shows this in her piece. I have interviewed scores of young couples with newborn children, and not a single couple was able to learn the sex of their child before it was born. The penalties involved for violating this law are severe, including loss of one's profession, fines and jail. Perhaps in cases of close personal relationships would the doctor violate this law, but certainly not enough to allow for the abortion of the millions of girls it would take to swing the balance significantly. That leaves post-natal elimination of girls.

In my experience with the Chinese people, there is one thing that is readily apparent across all spectrums of Chinese society: they love children. Again, I see no evidence (newspaper reports, criminal prosecutions, etc.) that indicates that millions of young girls are being killed each year. There are no bodies, I see no arrests, etc. Where are all these dead girls ending up, if that is what is happening? I staunchly disagree with anyone that thinks the Chinese are killing their daughters on such a wholesale level. So, if the girls are not being aborted or killed after birth, how is the imbalance occurring, if indeed it is?

A partial answer can be found when one looks at the Family Planning program in China. It starts when a woman conceives. The government has set up a number of incentives to encourage a family to register the pregnancies with their local Family Planning official. The first and most important incentive is the child's ID card. This card allows the family to access the medical services of their area hospital for prenatal examinations, delivery services, and post- delivery exams. By registering a pregnancy before it comes full term, the family is given an ID card at no cost. This ID card is required (if enforced) by the hospital in order to have the child there, something highly desirable for safety reasons. Although we assume that most Chinese have their children at home, this is not the case. Fears of complications compel most mothers to have their children in the hospital. But what does a family do that decides not to keep their newborn daughter? Since that daughter has filled their allotted "slot" with the Family Planning office, if the birth was registered there is only one way to be allowed to have another child: report to the Family Planning office that the child died. Following the death of a child, the Family Planning office will erase the child from the records, and the family will be allowed to have another child. In other words, many of our daughters were probably reported as having died by their birth parents. The effect of all this would be to exaggerate the mortality rates of young girls in China, resulting in the belief that there is a population imbalance developing. In fact, however, the girls are not removed from the population. They are living in China's orphanages or informally adopted by other families.

Lisa mentions that she believes 100,000 girls a year are found in China. It is important to remember that this figure approximates the number reported to the police. But that number is not anywhere near the total number of girls found. Why? Because most are never reported to the orphanage. In my research for adoptive families, I have had the opportunity to interview hundreds of "finders", the people involved with discovering the child. In talking with them, nearly all of them indicated a temptation to simply keep the foundling themselves, and not report the finding to the police. One finder had to protect a set of twins from a woman who was intent on taking one of the twins home with her. A woman approached me in an airport, and after learning who I was, and seeing my two adopted daughters, confessed that she had "adopted" her daughter after finding her at two days old on the street. One orphanage director I know also has an "adopted" daughter that was a foundling. It seems likely that for every girl found and reported to the police, 7 to 10 girls are quietly adopted by the community that found them. Thus, a large and growing segment of China's girls are invisible to the statistics and records of the government. These are in fact the "hidden girls".

But again, although they don't show on Chinese governmental censuses and records, they do exist. Since they have not been removed from the population in reality, the "imbalance" is overstated by their numbers, which is at this time unknown. Doesn't the Chinese government know this? Of course. But it is in their best interest to perpetuate the myth of an imbalance in order to increase the intrinsic worth of female children, and thus reduce the causal reasons for female abandonment. They want families to think that women will become scarce so that the families will be motivated to keep their daughters. Thus the Chinese government freely publishes statistics that perpetuate the belief that an imbalance is occurring.

A recent example is this story, taken from the Xinhua News from October 24, 2006. This government story details how difficult it is for some couples to find "flower girls" for their weddings. The reason, according to this story, is the scarcity of young girls in Guangzhou and other cities.

Now, anyone traveling to Guangzhou can see that this story is misleading on its face. There is no shortage of "flower girls" in China (for one, the vast majority of Chinese weddings don't use Western "Flower Girls", but follow traditional Chinese protocol. Only "westernized" couples are beginning to adopt elements from western weddings. Thus this issue is largely moot). Any adoptive family can watch the morning exercises of the school children on Shamian Island to see that there are plenty of "flower girls". For Mr. Long's story to be an accurate representation of the state of things in Guangzhou, the imbalance would need to be considerably higher than 118 to 100. I have no doubt that this story may have been true for his family, but it does not reflect reality in Guangzhou, or anywhere in China. But it does make one believe in a shortage, and that is the point.

There is an imbalance between boys and girls in China, but I believe that the extent of that imbalance is unknown. Until China is able to look into every country farm house and every high-rise apartment, there will remain unknown millions of "hidden" children. Until the extent of this population is known, it is difficult to know what the imbalance truly is.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Hunan, One Year Later III: Reactions & Reflections

How was the Hunan story interpreted inside China? In a country that frequently reports child abductions and trafficking, was this episode treated with a collective yawn and ignored? Or did the fact that these children were adopted to foreign families make this story resonate with those inside China? In this third article from China's Fenghuang Weekly (March 2006), the reporter editorializes about how the Hunan scandal was perceived by himself, and the impact he feels it will have on China.

Since this essay concludes the articles detailing the events surrounding the Hunan scandal, I offer my reflections on what Hunan should tell adoptive families, and the warnings we should take from this event. It is my fervent hope that we never hear of another scandal involving the buying and selling of children to support our adoptions. It is my hope, but it is not my expectation.


Self-reflection within the Chinese System of Adoption
By Deng Fei (of Hengyang City, Hunan province)

Cases of buying and selling infants involving welfare centers reflect the predicament of those in charge of this kind of charitable work. At the moment the most pressing issues are to expand the industry’s openness to new ideas and willingness to test them, encourage nongovernmental investment, and thereby put the charitable industry on the right track.

"Babies will not be taken in anymore." That is what an official with the Hengdong County welfare center on February 22, 2006 after listening in on the examination of an infant buying and selling case in court. Another official right to his side interposing, exclaimed: "How is that possible?"

At present, China and fifteen other nations have established transnational links for cooperation on the subject of adoption involving a total of 200 welfare centers all involved in international adoption. Data provided by the China Center on Adoption demonstrates: since 1992 the number of toddlers that have been sent abroad for adoption has surpassed 50,000 with more than 90 percent of them being female and more than 90 percent of them going to America. Adoption by foreigners has already become a major method for the placement and fostering of Chinese babies.

An official of the Hunan Provincial People's Government agreed to discuss foreign adoptions with the Fenghuang Weekly. According to him, in 1992 the people's government asked that adopters pay fees for the initial care of the child, but payment was not clearly delineated. Payments therefore varied widely and at some welfare centers touched on the absurd. Later on, the government systematically introduced norms of payment. Now the clear and definite fee to be paid by foreign adopters as reimbursement for the center's initial care for the child is 3000 American dollars.

In 1997 the justice department and the civil administration cooperated in the releasing of a document called "Methods of implementation of the adoption of children by foreigners." This document stipulated that payment of initial care fees should be made to the "Children's Foster Society” (a governmental organ). This clarification led to the easing of the Civil Administration of Welfare Centers' budget pressures as most of the money was redistributed to the welfare centers.

China's local governments have long been responsible for the welfare centers in their area, bearing many of their associated costs, including expenses for the basic care of the children. Unfortunately though, many of these governments do not have the financial strength to pay for all that is required. An official of Hengyang city informed the Fenghuang Weekly that county finance departments will usually give money to the centers according to the number of children in them each year.

In 2004 welfare centers in Hengyang County received 300,000 yuan, money that was divided between the care of children, elderly people, the payment of staff, and all other necessary expenses. The exact distribution of this money, however, was not fully clear.

One manager of the Hengyang County Civil Administration explained that, before the beginning of adoptions involving foreigners, outside of the income the centers earned from the local finance bureau, centers would also rely on profits from the raising of pigs and fish. These programs were helped by the fact that, generally speaking, welfare centers are located in relatively remote locations and so are able to get a good amount of land. Since their budgets have often been so limited these welfare centers tend to have very limited access to the material benefits of the outside world.

Since the beginning of the implementation of measures allowing for foreign adoption, welfare centers have been able to earn nearly 3000 American dollars for each child given out in adoption. The money allows welfare centers to raise the foster care conditions of their children. Before these measures Hengyang County welfare centers would have to send any ill children to the Provincial People's Hospital for treatment, "that was something nobody dared to think about."

Some critics point out that welfare centers in Hengyang that went so far as to purchase infants were engaging in a sort of unusual method of problem alleviation. As they see it, in this way people were provoked to become more determined in the implementation of the government's "planned birth" policy.

As the price of infants on the market began to rise, cases of stolen infants began to appear. In October of 2004 the Public Security Bureau, in cooperation with others, was able to solve a large-scale inter-provincial child kidnapping case. One hundred and ten people were arrested in the course of the case and seventy male children from six different Provinces were liberated. The kidnapping of children is now rampant, but we are only able to glimpse the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, as some of these children enter the channels of foreign adoption through the welfare centers, the cost of the rectification of these cases becomes very significant.

The Civil Administration, Justice Department, and Public Security Bureau have issued many statements concerning problems involving foreign adoption and have promulgated strict regulations. Yet, despite the efforts of these departments, some welfare centers have become spellbound by the potential for profits. The Hunan Province's justice department has itself gone so far as to put the head of the Hengdong County Welfare Center in the defendant's seat, somewhat aggravating the bad elements within the current system. Also, the voice of those on the internet calling for a reevaluation of the current system has been growing gradually.

An official with the civil administration of Hunan Province stated that the incidents of buying and selling of infants surrounding Hengyang's welfare centers have indeed provoked many to rethink the current system of foreign adoption.

In comparison with the more and more thriving channels of foreign adoption, domestic adoption has been sagging all along. Those in the Civil Administration inevitably blame the rigorousness of current family planning related policies. A single man must be over the age of forty before he can adopt a child, and he must never have had children in the past. A couple that has been married for five years with both members over the age of thirty and without biological children of their own may also be permitted to adopt a child.

What's more, many families within China that have wanted to adopt a child have been turned down for already having one biological child. Judging from current regulations, welfare centers are generally unwilling to allow the further developments of domestic adoption unless adopters pay a 24000 yuan initial support fee for the child. Thus, there are great barriers to domestic adoption. For contrast, in developed countries the government will provide subsidies to the households of adopted children.

Some officials within the Hengyang civil administration system suggest that the nation should adjust its adoption policies in order to encourage more domestic adoption. With the smooth development of domestic adoption, welfare centers could collect enough money to provide much needed standard aid to the sick, the old, and the weak. It is said that now the Civil Administration is promoting a new kind of "place trust in families to bring up the children" method. In certain Provinces, this method has already become a principal method for raising orphans.

Some experts believe that cases of the buying and selling of infants can be seen as a reflection of the predicament of charitable industry in China. Among the most pressing issues of the moment are the need for the vigorous development of new and multivariate ways of thinking on the issue, and the need for nongovernmental investment to help get China's charitable industries onto the right track.


Reflections on Hunan

by Brian H. Stuy

I believe the Hunan scandal story will be remembered as a turning point in the China International Adoption program, for it was in November 2005 that a prominent myth of China’s program was cast into doubt. (I use the term “myth” as defined by as meaning “an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution”. The term does not insinuate a belief that is necessarily untrue, merely that it is assumed to be true, but unproven. The assumption may, of course, also be false, having never been true. )

I say “myth” because all of us were taught, and believe, myths regarding China and the adoption program. It involves such innocuous myths such as lady-bug sightings and red threads. But other myths are more profound and important to adopting families. For example, when I adopted Meikina in 1998, I was taught by my agency, the media, and fellow adopters that the children in China’s orphanages would never find homes, and those who survived would probably grow up to become prostitutes and drug abusers. Their futures looked bleak indeed, and we were compelled in those early days to view our adoption as an act of grace.

It seemed so very simple “back then”. The Chinese preferred boys, so female infants were being abandoned wholesale. Unless adopted by benevolent foreign families (few families in China, the story went, considered adoption so there was little hope of these girls being adopted domestically), these girls had no chance for higher education or other opportunities in life. In adopting a little girl, not only were we providing a home for a beautiful child, but our donations and support would help improve the circumstances of those left behind. Thus, China’s program was viewed as perfect: Perfect ethics, perfect process, and perfectly predictable.

I advised families to consider China above other programs because it was demonstrably legitimate, and had no apparent corruption. Unlike Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, and other countries, China’s record was spotless. There were no stories of families having to pay “unforeseen” processing fees once in-country. The child a family received was the one they were referred. It seemed to work flawlessly. (There were, of course, individual experiences that refuted some of these assumptions, but they were viewed as the exception).

That is why the Chinese adoption community was shocked when the allegations from Hunan became known. How could this story be true, many families asked, given what we know about China? In a country where so many children are being abandoned, why would there be a need for orphanage directors to buy infant girls?

But Hunan should be viewed as the canary in the coal mine, for in Hunan we have the clearest evidence yet that many of our cherished myths may no longer be (if they ever were) true.

At its foundation, Hunan is about greed – greed of orphanage directors, traffickers, and probably birth parents. We can argue the motives of this greed, but it is undeniable that a desire for money led Hengyang County director Jiang Jianhua to first require his employees to seek out unwanted babies, and later to purchase children outright from traffickers. It was greed that motivated Duan Meilin and her sister, and the other traffickers, to “adopt” children from various individuals and transport them hundreds of miles to Hunan, where they sold them to the orphanages. It was greed that created the environment where the price of these children rose from 200 yuan to over 3,500 yuan in the space of two years.

Defenders of the China program, including myself, point out that these children were unwanted, and therefore the trafficking was not that bad. It certainly is not serious enough to label China’s program as corrupt, as we commonly understand the term.

If pushed, I would admit that I see little problem with the idea that unwanted children were accepted from birth parents and delivered to the orphanage in lieu of payment. Trafficking per se is an innocuous term, covering everything from being reimbursed for travel expenses to the buying of children abducted and smuggled to their buyers. But the Hunan scandal begs several questions, questions that serve to muddy the waters.

We must ask ourselves, for example, if it is possible that there were birth parents who gave up their daughters because they were able to receive a substantial sum from the orphanage or from the traffickers. In other words, is it possible that the situation in Hunan actually increased the number of children that were deserted by their birth families in order that those families would be given what for them was a substantial sum of money? Did the actions of the orphanage directors create a “market” for these children that otherwise would not have been there?

And if these directors were, for whatever reasons, compelled to purchase these babies to fulfill the demands placed upon their orphanages, what other means might be employed by other directors to accomplish the same ends? Would they, for example, be willing to seek out unregistered children in poor villages and confiscate those children to adopt to Americans and other foreigners? Before we reject such a hypothesis, we might want to consider the story of a dozen families in Gaoping County, Hunan.

In March 2006, families in this rural village filed a petition asking for the return of eleven children taken from them by Family Planning officials over the past four years ( One of these families, Yang Li Bing, stated that “his de facto wife gave birth to a girl in July 2004 and even though she was their first child, the county's family planning officers took the infant away on April 29 last year [2005] citing an 'unregistered marriage and an illegal child'."

In an area where the average annual income is about 3,000 yuan, Mr. Yang was told that he could have his daughter back if he paid 8,000 yuan. A few days later, that ransom was increased to 20,000 yuan. Unable to raise that amount of money, Mr Yang lamented that “We are poor people and my relatives were not able to collect so much money in several days.” When he was unable to come up with the cash, a Family Planning official notified Mr. Yang that his daughter had been brought to the Shaoyang orphanage, and that “even if you could offer 1 million yuan,” he could not get his daughter back. He was simply told to “give up hope.”

One must question why Family Planning officials would confiscate unregistered children to bring them to an orphanage that was already filled with abandoned babies? Were they simply acting out of a desire to strictly enforce the laws of the land, even if that resulted in an increased burden being placed on the orphanage? Or were there other motives? The Hunan scandal forces us to ask these questions.

And what happened to these confiscated children?

It is perhaps coincidence that the following month the Shaoyang orphanage submitted dossiers for two children to the CCAA for international adoption that listed birth and finding dates that exactly match the birth and confiscation dates of two of the eleven children confiscated in Gaoping County. If we knew the birth and confiscation dates of the other nine, would we find internationally adopted children with those dates also?

In June 2006 I detailed a survey of the orphanages that participate in the international adoption program. When asked if they had children available for domestic adoption to a local family, 93% of the over 250 directors stated that they had no healthy babies available for domestic adoption. Many admitted that most of their healthy children were adopted internationally, and that a domestic family should look elsewhere to adopt a healthy infant.

It is a sad reality that families inside China have no legal options to adopt if denied access to the children in the area orphanages. Many families, like the one who told her story in an August posting, resort to extra-legal adoptions from close friends or other families that seek to get rid of an unwanted child. But these families face suspicion and high fees when they seek to register these children, and as we saw in Gaoping County risk discovery by Family Planning officials.

Some of us fail to consider the plight of these families in China – mostly childless, they desperately wish to build a family through adoption, only to be denied that opportunity because their city or county orphanage adopts the children internationally. Placed in such a position, some families buy their child from traffickers, while the most desperate kidnap a child off of the street.

Thus, Hunan is the canary in the mine in that it, along with many other lesser-known articles, describes the changing dynamics of children in China. Hunan highlights the growing imbalance between the number of unwanted children, and the number of families seeking to adopt those children. It illuminates to what extent directors will seek to profit from that imbalance by illegally seeking and purchasing additional infants from other areas of China. While their motives may be altruistic (giving everyone the benefit of the doubt), the results are not. Domestic families are denied children, other families are coerced to give up their child for an inconceivable amount of money, and still others have their children confiscated under the umbrella of the law. And those are just the stories we know about.

I have defended China’s program in the past, and I continue to believe it is among the best in the world. I have spoken with hundreds of finders who confirmed the truthfulness of the stories given to adoptive families. I have sat at dinner with many directors who have displayed and conveyed a deep desire to do the best they could for their children. But these experiences are not universal, and exceptions have occurred. China must work to remove the conflicts that exist in their adoption system, and remove the financial pressures that devolve on its orphanage directors.

Maybe I expect a perfect system, one in which no one’s rights are infringed upon, and where the children are always prioritized. A system where the governments, agencies and adoptive families think first what is best for the child, and second what is best for them. A system where an orphanage director would never willingly encourage or force a birth family to relinquish their child, and adoptive families would never participate if they suspected such things were happening.

If I expect too much, perhaps it is because that is the myth I was taught when I began adopting. Perhaps that is the myth many are still taught today.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Infant Trafficking: One Family's Story

With this, the second article from the March 2006 issue of "Fenghuang Weekly", we obtain a rare glimpse into the world of baby trafficking. As we saw from our first article, the stage was set in Hunan Province. The director of the Hengyang County orphanage had put word out that the orphanage was buying babies. It was only a matter of time before someone heard of Ms. Liang, an elderly woman in Wuchuan City, Guangdong Province.

These articles were translated from the Chinese by a professional translator at The words are not mine; the mistakes are not mine; as much as I would like to make corrections (like the stated date that international adoptions began in the first segment), I have left them.


Infant Trafficking: One Family's History
By Deng Fei (of Hengyang City, Hunan province)

In 2001, in Wuchuan City of Guangdong Province, the husband of Duan Meilin discovered an older woman surnamed Xing that had taken care of, and brought up, a great deal of abandoned children. Through this discovery the Duan family would soon be drawn into the business of selling babies. Since then, the number of babies that the family has played a part in the trafficking of is difficult to estimate. For this, the Duan family is doomed to be a family that people will talk about for many years to come.

On February 22nd 2006, Duan Meilin, her sister Duan Zilin, her brother Duan Yueneng, his wife Wu Daichao, her own sister Wu Daiqun, and the youngest sister of her sister's husband Zhang Chunai all stood in the place of the accused at Qidong's People's court.

In 2001, Duan Meilin's husband Zhang Mou was working at a chicken farm in Wuchuan of Guangdong province. One day he happened to find out that a woman with the surname of Liang that worked there had raised a lot of abandoned little girls. This discovery made Zhang excited beyond words.

In Wuchuan of Guangdong Province's southwest, the concept that boys and men are more important than females is still very prevalent, and so the abandonment of girl infants is certainly not big news. One bit of evidence comes from the diary of a student gaining practical experience in a related office: "Today, I sorted out the 'public notarization book of abandoned infant's' (finding ads). My god! There are so many. It has thirty or forty separate parts! These little girls were abandoned in every corner of Wuchuan. If they weren't soon brought over to the welfare center by some good-hearted person, their lives would still be in the hands of fate."

The old Ms. Liang had, with the help of several other older women, raised a very large number of abandoned girls over the more than ten years that she had been in the business. Some couples looking to adopt a child would go to her home and select the children they liked. Generally speaking these couples would give Ms. Liang and the other women some kind of remuneration for their services. Others that needed some way to deal with or dispose of baby girls would also come to their door. At the most, Liang would keep around forty babies in the house.

The mother of Duan Meilin, Chen Yejin, had previously worked at a welfare center in Hunan’s Changning city. From that experience she knew that just sending a baby to a welfare center could earn a person more than 1000 yuan. Bearing this in mind, Duan Meilin and her sister Duan Zilin started to look for abandoned babies in the Changning area. When Zhang Mou found out that Miss. Liang had a lot of babies at her house the whole Duan family became wild with joy. They thought that they had stumbled upon an excellent money-making opportunity. Duan Meilin then accompanied Zhang to the Wu household in Wuchuan, and adopted one of the children. After returning home, Duan Meilin passed the child onto the welfare center in Changning and was paid 2300 yuan for the child.

In 2002, Duan Meilin returned to the home of Miss. Liang, this time with her sister and mother. After paying Ms. Liang 720 yuan, they chose six baby girls and placed them in a paper box to carry them home. On the train back home the railway police discovered the six babies stored in a paper box. They quickly decided the babies must have been kidnapped, so the children were sent to the welfare center of Liuzhou. Duan Meilin along with her sister and mother were put into custody before being set free one month later.

The same year the mother and daughters of the Duan family sold three infants to the welfare center of Zhuzhou City in Hunan province, capturing 6900 yuan, but as soon as they exited the building the Zhuzhou police seized them. The Hunan Provincial police immediately went to Wuchuan for further investigation. Upon learning about Ms. Liang the Wuchuan City Welfare Center went to her house and took the children away.

In 2003 sisters and brothers of the Duan family were again taken into custody by the Changning City police before again being released. After helping the brothers and sisters to get to know a lot of those in charge of the management of various welfare centers in Hengyang, Duan's mother Chen Yejin withdrew from the business of buying and selling children. The other members of the Duan family then began working on their own.

About a year later, Duan Meilin and Zhang Mou returned to the home of Ms. Liang. Ms. Liang knew that they had been seized by the police, so she did not want to be involved with them anymore. Zhang explained to her that the police had determined that they had not been kidnapping children and therefore let them free, "otherwise, we would be facing punishment." Duan then said that the Hengyang Welfare Center wanted infants. "It doesn't matter how many. They will take them all, no problem."

One of those babies taken from Ms. Liang's home had been ill, but Duan Meilin said that she was beautiful and after paying fifty yuan for the baby insisted on taking her. As a result the baby died on the road.

Later in court, Miss. Liang would argue defensively that she sold this sick baby because she believed that the welfare center could save the child's life, since she had no way to offer the little girl treatment. Over the past fourteen years of all the infants that Ms. Liang had raised, fourteen had died from illness.

Ms. Liang's idea was that by raising these children she could make extra money to supplement her otherwise meager budget. In court she admitted that she had earned more that 60,000 yuan buying and selling these children. Of this money, she said 20,000 had been used to treat her daughter's mental illness; 20,000 had been used to treat her own illness; and something more than 10,000 had been used to pay for her son’s college education.

As Guangdong's planned birth policy became more and more stringent the number of people that had children outside of the plan decreased, and so abandoned babies became fewer and fewer. In order to get more of this smaller number of infants, Ms. Liang then began to pay varying amounts between 100 and 1000 yuan for them. Ms. Liang's son from college then began to help out in the management of the business of buying and selling infants.

At this time, the sister of a supervisor at the Hengyang county welfare agency, after discovering the Duan family's "source of merchandise", took four or five other ladies to Wuchuan, and straightaway opened discussions with Ms. Liang and son, and took up the infant peddling trade in competition with the Duan family. In 2003 the going price of a baby there was still in the hundreds of yuan. By 2004 the price had risen to more than 2000 yuan, and by the second half of 2005 the price had climbed to about 3500.

At the end of 2004 several cadres from the Qidong county welfare center made a special trip down to Changning. Once there they tracked down Duan Meilin and asked her to provide them with more infants. For help in doing this Duan Meilin then asked her sister-in law, Wu Daochao to help her. Wu Daichao and her husband DuanYueneng then rented out a house close to the home of Ms. Liang in Wuchuan and prepared to go into business for the long-term. That year Duan Meilin was able to get at least forty children from the home of Ms. Liang.

After Wu Daichao became familiar with the whole buying and selling process, she called upon her sister, Wu Daiqun, who was then working in Guangdong. For every infant that Wu Daoqun was able to procure for her sister she was given 300 yuan and for a pair 500 yuan.

In Wuchuan, Wu Daochao came to know a woman that had brought a baby to Ms. Liang. Named Wu Guande, the old woman had often served as a mid-wife. Wu Daochao also became familiar with a driver named Mr. Liu. This group of well-informed sources soon became the life-wire of Wu Daochao's business.

In court, Ms. Liang said that she found out that an older man that sells cool tea was also involved in collecting infants. She also knew that other Duan brothers and sisters had been involved in transactions totaling more than forty.

In July of 2005, Duan Meilin, worried that by transporting more than two infants back to Hunan she might draw the attention of authorities, once again hired her sister Zhang Chunai for help, paying her 500 yuan a month. As word about the Duan family's operations in the city of Wuchuan spread, more and more people came to them to talk business. Usually these people would earn somewhat more than 2000 yuan for the children they brought. When her business was good, Duan Meilin could herself sell around ten infants per month. Over the years hundreds of infants were sold in this way.

During the afternoon of November 17th 2005, Duan Yueneng once again went to the home of old Ms. Liang. When he saw that Liang had three more infants in her household he immediately called the Hengyang County Welfare Center. After both sides had settled on an agreement, Duan Yueneng got his wife Wu Daichao and her sister to come to purchase all three babies and take them to Hengyang with him that same night.

During the afternoon of the next day among those that came to meet the brothers and sisters of the Wu family were employees of the Hengyang welfare agency as well as the Qidong County police, who had long been lying low until that opportune moment. This, then, was the last sale of the Duan family infant peddling.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Hunan -- One Year After -- Part One

In November 2005, the world became aware of a scandal in the Hunan Province of China that involved the trafficking and sale of infants to several orphanages to adopt to foreign families. Although stories of infant trafficking are common in China, this was the first time government officials in China's orphanages were shown to be involved in the illegal trade of children.

A month later, China disallowed all press coverage regarding the scandal, in an obvious attempt to control the damage the episode was having on the world stage. A few western reporters continued to report on the story, however. China brushed aside concerns of foreign adopting families by issuing a terse notice through the U.S. State Department claiming that "the CCAA informed us that it had concluded its investigation into all of the children from Hengyang adopted by Americans and found that all of these children were legitimately orphaned or abandoned and that there are no biological parents searching for them." Many families assumed this meant that no children adopted by foreign families had been trafficked, a belief that is clearly wrong.

To show the world how serious China was to remedy the situation, China stopped processing new infants in Hunan Province from January through mid-April 2006. Adopting families were reassured that procedures had been installed to prevent a similar problem from occurring again. Families breathed a collective sigh of relief, and adoptions from Hunan began again in earnest in September 2006.

But a survey of orphanage directors reveals that little has changed -- a few staff meetings, an official memo or two, but fundamentally the policies and procedures remain unchanged from those in place over a year ago. No significant safe-guards have been installed to keep trafficked, or abducted children for that matter, from being adopted through the highly lucrative foreign adoption program.

In March 2006 I came across three articles published in the Shenzhen-based magazine "Fenghuang Weekly" that represent the most accurate reporting on the background, causes and prosecution of those involved in the Hunan scandal. They include first-hand testimony, court reporting, and a knowledge of Chinese law that was unrivaled in the Western Press. These articles clearly show the causes of the scandal, primary of which was the demand for infant children by foreign adopting families. Vagaries of Chinese law and cultural notions combined to allow those entrusted with the care of the innocent to speak of them as "merchandise," "goods" and other derogatory terms.

Below is the first of these three articles (the other two will appear in future blogs). I print them here, translated from the Chinese, to educate families to the history of the Hunan scandal, and to alert all of the potential for future problems. Nothing has changed to prevent another Hunan scandal from occurring.


The Hengyang Infant Dealing Case
Benevolence or vice? That question has generated far-reaching controversy
By Deng Fei (from Hengyang of Hunan province)

In November of 2005, as the Hunan provincial and Qidong county police were trying to get to the bottom of a batch of infant selling cases, they unexpectedly found that oftentimes certain welfare centers would be inciting the criminals in the field. Seeking windfall profits, these welfare centers had for years colluded with dealers in human beings in order to collect babies to be put on the market for foreign adoption. The trial of the dealers in court has exposed the questionable actions of the centers as well. According to a welfare center head (now a defendant in the case) the babies were, without exception, abandoned ones and not kidnapped. The accused has gone so far as to claim that the selling of even abducted infants would not constitute a criminal act and that the whole process of putting babies up for foreign adoption had been done in full accordance with the law. The question of whether this case is one of benevolence or vice has thus provoked wide-spread debate. On February 22nd 2006, the Qidong county court of Hunan province made public the open case against a group of welfare centers and caused a great stir.

In November 2005, other infant dealing incidents that involved a group of welfare centers in Hunan were exposed by the media. In this case, many welfare center cadres were soon released after having been detained under suspicion of the abduction and selling of babies. Yet, later through the leadership of Hengyang City's municipal party committee these officials were once again taken into custody. For now the great stir surrounding this case is far from a calm. In the course of the court case, the public prosecution has accused nine defendants of involvement with the kidnapping and selling of babies and further has charged one welfare center head in suspicion of buying abducted infants. The public prosecution believes that the individuals cited above, including the welfare center head, wantonly dealt in infants with an eye to putting them on the foreign adoption market to obtain great profits. For this reason they believe that a thorough investigation should be undertaken in full accordance with the law in order to determine their specific criminal guilt. The accused welfare center head, in contrast, has argued that, objectively speaking, in the purchase of these infants the center has saved their lives. The question of whether his actions were criminal or benevolent has become the subject of intense debate within the courtroom and has attracted the interest of society in all locations and all circles.

On February 24th the court came to the firm decision that all ten individuals were to be held guilty. The ten were all punished for periods ranging from one to fifteen years.

The Welfare Center Behind the Human Traders

On November 18th 2005, at approximately 3:00 pm at the Hengyang train station, two women had just placed the three infants with them into a black carriage when the police began to encircle them.

In the process of interrogating and investigating the human traders, the Qidong county police happened to discover that behind the curtains of the human trading operation were welfare centers. The children in the carriage were intended for two welfare center officials, one was the Hengyang County Society Welfare Center's party secretary, Wang Weihong, and the other was the head of that county's Guangrong center, Zhang Heyun.

The Qidong county police then rapidly proceeded to form a special team to focus on the case and later took 27 people into custody in connection with the incident. Through all this the dark road of collusion between the welfare centers and the traders in human beings was revealed.

According to those involved in the investigation, it appeared that residents of Hengyang County’s Changning City Duan Meilin, Duan Zilin, Wu Daichao, Wu Daiqun, and Chen Zhijin were paid by welfare centers for the adoption of the infants these individuals had obtained. Further, it seemed that these individuals had opportunistically thought of kidnapping children in order to sell them to the welfare centers for profit.

Starting in December of 2002, Chen Zhijin, in cooperation with three brothers and sisters of the Duan family and two sisters of the Wu family along with others, purchased infants in Guangdong's Wuchuan City and Zhanjiang city and other places. After purchase these infants were brought back to Hengyang where, for amounts between 3200 and 4300 yuan, they were sold to the Qidong Welfare Center, the Hengyang County Welfare Center, the Hengshan County Welfare Center, the Hengnan County Welfare Center, the Hengdong County Welfare Center, and the Changning Municipal Welfare Center. All of these infants were originally provided by three people: Liang Guihong, Wu Guande, and Liu Zhidong.

According to the formal accusation of the prosecution, "those persons connected with the welfare center were fully aware that the Duans, Wus, and others were traders in human beings, yet they still purchased the infants and even went so far as to fabricate various adoption papers and subsequently transferred the high costs to others by seeking improper profits.

Police investigations have revealed that at the end of 2002 the leader of the operation, Duan Meilin, traveled to Liang Jiahong's home in Wuchuan city of Guangdong province and received two female infants before bringing them to the Changning City Welfare Center. These infants were then sold to the center at a price of 2300 yuan each. Later on the same center accepted five more female infants from Duan Meilin. Furthermore, according to the formal charges: In 2005 Hengnan County Welfare Center purchased 22 female infants, Hengdong County Welfare Center purchased 18, Hengyang County Welfare Center and Guangrong Welfare Center purchased 11, Qidong County Welfare Center purchased 15, and Hengshan County Welfare Center purchased 10.

Yet, someone with knowledge of the facts and details of the incident told "Fenghuang Weekly", that the total number of babies that were purchased from the Duan family's group was in the hundreds.

The Welfare Centers’ "Baby Economy"

China began foreign adoption in 1996. The most common reason that foreigners adopt Chinese children is that the married couple cannot have children biologically. Since the start of adoption, America has become the biggest adopting country of Chinese children. For foreigners, three thousand dollars has become a regular adoption fee. Taking Hunan province for example, when the adoption center of the Provincial Civil Administration receives payment for the infants it deducts five percent and then proceeds to return ninety-five percent to the welfare center that provided the initial care to the infant. An official with the Hunan Provincial Civil Administration said that the main reasons for allowing a welfare center to receive 2850 American dollars for a child are consideration for the current budget gap for children's foster care, to allow the enhancement of the vigor of grassroots people's relief assistance, and for general investment into the development of the welfare industry.

The more infants shipped off to foreign countries the bigger the income. Objectively speaking, this is what stimulated the attempts of welfare centers to procure infants through all available means. Towards these ends, the Hengyang County Welfare center once clarified the mission for lower levels: one employee that was responsible for the adoption of three children within that year could be said to have completed their work duties for the year and was able to receive an extension of their salary and also a bonus at the year's end.

When the number of infants that were taken to the welfare centers began to decrease welfare centers started to directly remunerate those that brought them infants. "At the beginning it was only 200 yuan given in a traditional red envelop," said a Hengyang county insider. Later on, welfare centers started to buy from some human traders. As many welfare centers began to compete for the infants their price began to consistently rise, at one point reaching over 2000 yuan. Some welfare center employees even went so far as to urge the human traders to secure infants with complete disregard for any sense of morality or legality.

The roughly thirty year-old head of the Hengyang County Welfare Center, Jiang Jianhua, was chosen as one of the "Ten Best Young People of 2004" for the province. Jiang was said to be of “nimble mind and strong working ability." Under his able charge the Hengyang County Welfare Center was able to procure a relatively large number of infants.

Originally, the welfare centers' infant procurement network was concentrated in the rural south of Hunan. People there that give birth to a female child want to try again for a male child. Some speaking about that area say: "To take an infant and send him to a welfare center means that he will eat 'the country's grain,' and at the same time the center will pay a significant fee for the child called a 'nourishment fee'. For these reasons female babies have often been brought to the centers." Later on, the centers began to purchase infants from other parts of the country with the help of intermediaries.

Hengyang County Welfare Center later organized special groups called "child-rearing groups." Every group was composed of six staff members that were responsible for the rearing of twelve children. At the highest, the number of group reached ten "diapers all hanging in a line."

Over time more and more welfare centers were drawn into the tide of infant buying. Since 2003 Hengnan County Welfare Center has purchased 169 infants, Hengshan County Welfare Center purchased 232, and Hengyang County purchased as many as 409. Hengyang County’s Guangrong (Old Folk's Home) Center's head He Yun went to see Jiang Jianhua and others in order to ask them to introduce the knacks of the trade to "make money together." In the past the Guangrong Welfare Center had received a great deal of honors by having the name "Greater China's Cultured Guangrong Center" conferred upon it by the civil administrations at the regional and provincial level.

The unusual activities of the welfare centers soon attracted the attention of the country's judicial organs. In July of 1996 the leaders of the Public Security Bureau released clear-cut rules to their subordinates about the examination and approval process of the passports of adopted children bound for foreign countries and about required investigations into the history of these children. In August of that year the Justice department released a notice to all of the country's notarization offices stipulating that beyond taking care of the previously required notarization work ordinary foreigners wanting to adopt in China would now have to handle the notarization of the child to be adopted’s proof of origin. Notary offices were then required to provide foreigners with physical proof of notarization on the basis of a preliminary investigation of the child's history.

Nonetheless, these stipulations were too relaxed to give the baby sellers any serious trouble. Six welfare centers in the city of Hengyang provided the infants that they had bought with fabricated documents. They would go to the local police office and file reports claiming that the infants had been picked up in the streets and brought into the center. After receiving a certificate that proved that the infant was abandoned, the centers were able to obtain notarization of the child's origin without hassle and also were able to obtain the associated "booklets of proof."

One participant told Fenghuang Weekly: “We would just randomly choose some place to say that we had picked up the abandoned infant from, and then we would say that we had been informed about the infant from the public hot-line. The police and the notary office didn't find anything unusual."
Only a small portion of the infants obtained by the welfare centers were placed into domestic adoption. Many more were sent into foreign adoption.

Is it a Benevolent Act or a Crime?

In November of 2005 Sanxiang City Paper was the first to reveal that the Qidong county police had unearthed cases of infant sales by welfare centers. On November 21st Hengyang's party Municipal Committee and Municipal Administration called for the immediate convening of the public security bureau, the civil administration, and other departments in an urgent meeting. At the meeting the public security bureau was instructed to quickly organize a special team to work on the case and to quickly and sternly strike against the welfare center personnel involved.

Yet the whole affair ran into some snags. The police did not have approval to bring those cited by the city's investigative office into custody. It is said that the investigative office believed that the welfare centers had purchased infants, and such was the determined conclusion of all those involved, but it was difficult to find anything in the legal code that clearly prohibited the sale of people. Following the principle that nothing is a crime unless it is written in the law books, the public security bureau originally could not be granted permission to seize the participating staff members.

On December 19th all the officials "suspected of kidnapping and selling children" were released from custody on bail to await their trial. An insider revealed that on that day the Hengyang Welfare Center held a banquet at the county seat's best hotel in order to help Mr. Jiang and others to get over the shock of their ordeal. "When they went on and off work fireworks were set off to welcome them or send them off." Yet, this situation did not persist for too long. It is said that an inside report by the Hunan branch of the Xinhua news agency caused the change.

At the end of 2005 the head of the Hengdong County Welfare Center, Chen Ming, and the head of the Guangrong Welfare Center, He Yun were both ordered to be taken into custody. Upon hearing this news He Yun fled the area in secret.

Chen Ming was the only welfare center head to stand trial. According to the "abandoned infant and orphan adoption registry" of the Hengdong center, from October 29th 2002 to November 10th 2005 that welfare center was responsible for giving away 288 babies away in adoption to America and many countries throughout Europe. Chen was charged with "suspicion of purchasing abducted infants."

In court Chen's defense lawyer, Yuan Baishun, put forth an objection to this accusation. He pointed out that a mass of evidence makes clear that these children were without exception abandoned and not abducted. He further pointed out that the Hengdong welfare center conducted a legal study and found that even the purchasing of infants that had been abducted does not constitute a legal offense. The determination of guilt requires that the act of the individual violated a clearly stated law, and the penal code does not contain any stipulations that suggest guilt for "the crime of purchasing abducted children."

Chen's lawyer Yuan Baishun's, "retreating ten thousand paces," went on to say that even if the Hengdong Welfare Center had committed the accused act of "purchasing abducted children" compliance with the law would not allow for the establishment of "criminal responsibility." Chapter 241 section 6 of the penal code stipulates: "concerning the purchase of women or children... as long as the child has not been tortured and as long as attempts to rescue the child have not been impeded, the buyer can be determined not responsible for any criminal wrong doing." According to Yuan, the center provided staff with the sole duty of caring for these infants as well as doctors, the children had high quality powdered milk to drink, and in the event of illness they could receive timely treatment, thus, he argued, there was emphatically no maltreatment of the infants.

Seemingly all parties involved are convinced that the children that passed through the hands of the Duans and Wus flowing to Hengyang city from Guangdong were in fact abandoned. Nevertheless, the public prosecution has pointed to the agreement of the highest people's court, the country’s highest investigative bureau, public security bureau, and the Countrywide Women's League entitled the "declaration pertaining to the strike against the selling of abducted women and children and the question of the assignment of criminal guilt." According to section four of the document "the selling of infants that have been abandoned and picked up from the streets as well as the selling of abducted infants both constitute crimes that require the assignment of criminal guilt."

In response, Yuan claimed that the above mentioned declaration's "picked up" is intended to apply for those children that have willfully disobeyed and left their parents but not meant to be applied in situations where the parents have abandoned the child by their own initiative.

One official with the Hengyang municipal administration system insists that what was done by the accused in the case was for the good. "Under the current real circumstances where there is a large number of abandoned babies, a welfare center's payment in exchange for children has encouraged the people to actively participate in the picking up and sending of abandoned babied to welfare centers to be brought up or moved into foreign adoption channels, which are approved of by the state and completely in accordance with the law."

The same official offered a photograph taken many years ago. In the photograph there is a group of passersby gathered around an abandoned baby. While showing the photo the official said, "Before, some people were afraid of the trouble, and so often they were unwilling to send abandoned infants to the welfare center. For this reason, there was a good chance that the infants would die."

An important question that he asks is, "What if the welfare centers give the children that they have paid money in exchange for to foreign adopters without accepting foreigners’ contributions in return? How would society look at the welfare centers if they did that?"

The Dissimilation of Welfare Assistance

Whether or not the purchase of infants by welfare centers truly constitutes a crime is ultimately up to the courts to decide.

The amount that a welfare center can benefit from the buying and selling of infants is still uncertain. Yet, an insider divulged that from the beginning of 2002 until September of 2005 the amount that the Changning city's welfare center received through the foreign adoption system has reached into the millions of yuan. Also, during the first half of 2005 a staff member of the Qidong County Hospital adopted an infant from the county's welfare center and paid more than 12,000 yuan as "contributory money".

One phenomenon that we must be on the look-out for is the engenderment of tremendous profits though "the baby economy." This sort of economy has already begun to weaken some welfare centers's sense of responsibility to help those in danger or difficulty. If such negative change is not halted, that important sense of responsibility will become purely nominal.

At the height of the "baby economy" in Hengyang, staff members working within the welfare centers began to call infants "merchandise," babies that had just been bought would be called "newly stocked," sold babies were called "outgoing merchandise," children that could not be sold were called "in stock."

An insider with special knowledge of the situation told Zhoufeng Weekly that in order to save costs a welfare center once abandoned a baby in the rural countryside of that county, but, when the baby was discovered by villagers who then filed a police report, they had to return the child to the welfare center.

Some elderly people living around Hengdong Welfare Center claim that the center became more and more heavily guarded over time. If an outsider wanted to go in the welfare center to see the children, they would always be refused "to protect the safety of the children."

After the welfare center's primary focus shifted to the "infant economy," elderly people seeking to live at the center seem to have become a sort of burden. One person very critical of the centers said that now, in order to live in the centers, elderly people would have to pay 10,000 yuan, which the welfare center calls "deposit money." Of course, in fact, elderly that really need assistance from the centers cannot afford that kind of fee.

One local person that often goes to the welfare centers told Fenghuang Weekly that he had once seen an elderly man that had already paid the required deposit fee carry his luggage to the center. He then proceeded to sit on the welfare centers stone bench for a full two days before simply leaving. "Welfare centers really do not want to admit elderly people to live in the centers," the local person told the paper.

"Even if the welfare centers' buying and selling of infants does not constitute a crime it should still be thoroughly condemned," said an old cadre of the Hengyang Running Water Company.

In 1997 the Hengyang County Welfare Centers received the "Hunan Province Second Rank Welfare Undertaking" designation. Recently the board pronouncing that declaration has been quietly plucked off the wall and taken down. Now at the entrance there is a three meter long red cloth with the words "protect the advanced" concealing the large characters of the "Hengyang County Welfare Center" sign behind it. A resident of the area, covering a smile, said: "that is out of fear that you reporters will come along and take pictures."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Turning Point in Wait Times

Much has changed in the China adoption community since I posted this article last September (2006). The wait times have continued to increase, showing at this writing no signs of a significant acceleration. In fact, from what we know at this point, wait times are likely to reach 24 months by the end of 2007. I had assumed in September that the Hunan children held during the scandal period would help bring wait times down when they were "released" for adoption in April 2006, but this clearly did not happen. In all likelihood, many of those children were directed to domestic families, resulting in no "catch-up". The declining referral ages of the recently referred children is evidence that the CCAA is consuming what little supply they have.

The changes in requirements to go into affect in May 2007 will not have an impact on wait times until those May families are referred children, which will occur in late 2009 at current rates. Additionally, it seems likely that many families have accelerated their dossier preparation to beat the deadline, resulting in a higher-than-usual number of families in the pipeline between now and May.

There is no positive news in any of this for waiting families.

April 10, 2007


I have received many e-mails from waiting parents asking me if I think that the current wait situation is going to continue. Additionally, many ask how much impact the Hunan closure had on the wait times we are experiencing now. Drawing on the statistical data compiled monthly by Ralph Stirling (link), I have drawn out and compiled the referral wait times since the beginning of 2005 through last month, to see if the Hunan story (reported in October 2005) and its attendant closure of adoptions from that Province has had a discernable impact on referral wait times. In other words, were things slowing down before Hunan, or is Hunan the cause of this current slowdown.

Below is the number of days each month of log-in-dates (LID – the date a dossier is logged into the CCAA) until referrals were received for that month.

January 2005 – 180 days
February 2005 – 184 days
March 2005 – 196 days
April 2005 – 203 days
May 2005 – 216 days
June 2005 – 217 days
July 2005 – 201 days
August 2005 – 211 days
September 2005 – 211 days
October 2005 – 223 days
November 2005 – 245 days
December 2005 – 267 days
January 2006 – 275 days
February 2006 – 301 days
March 2006 – 324 days
April 2006 – 340 days
May 2006 – 360 days
June 2006 – 376 days
July 392 – 392 days
August 2006 – 402 days

Expressed graphically, it looks like this:

One can discern two main things: The trend of wait-times was already increasing in early 2005; the Hunan story has had a dramatic impact on wait-times.

What can families expect going forward? If nothing changes with China’s adoption policies, the wait times should decline over the next several months to the yellow trend line. Thus, if the Hunan stoppage had not taken place, one would expect that the wait time right now would be about 250 days. Thus, Hunan has added an additional 150 days to the current wait time. This has taken place over a period of 9 months, and it will take many months for the effect of Hunan coming back online to be fully seen.

But the underlying trend is still up, so we won’t see a return to the 200-day wait times. This is because overall, there are fewer healthy children available for adoption (for more on this, see my blog essay "The Hague Agreement and China's International Adoption Program"). For that reason, it seems likely that China will alter its policies in order to reduce the number of international families that can adopt. Their stated goal is to hold the wait-time at 365 days.

So, for families just now applying, or with dossiers already in China, what can they expect? Obviously it will take a few months for the available Hunan children to be referred. Thus, I believe that we are currently at the longest wait times we will see. Over the next several months we should see a dipping of the wait times. Within 6 months we should be back to the mean-average (yellow line). Any changes China makes to their adoption policy will not have an impact until late next year.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Predicting the Future of China Adoption

A cursory view of nearly every adoption blog and newsgroup shows that the air is abuzz with speculation and rumors of what the future holds for China adoption. Although there is significant data and history on which accurate assessments can be based, it seems that nearly everyone is at a loss to explain why things are changing so dramatically.

As adoptive families, it is helpful to assess the current situation with tools learned in basic Economics 101. It is clear that China's international adoption program is experiencing a supply "crunch", which is to say that there are too few children available for immediate adoption to waiting foreign families. The immediate cause of this crunch was the Hunan stoppage that began in December 2005, and is just now ending. But a longer view shows that it has been building for years.

It is a misperception to think that this situation appeared overnight. In fact, a glance at the Yahoogroups dedicated to the various orphanages shows that each year orphanages have been added to the International Adoption program to bring in additional supply of children. This was done to compensate for the falling abandonment rates in the existing member orphanages. The goal is to keep the supply as constant and predictable as possible, and it has worked pretty well.

It is well-known that three Provinces provide a majority of the children adopted through the IA program -- Guangdong, Jiangxi and Hunan. When Hunan adoptions were paused in late December 2005, it took 20-25% of the adoptable children out of the supply pool. China's options were limited, especially since this was a very temporary problem. It was forced to let the "demand" back up, leading to longer and longer referral wait times. The DTC to referral wait times now stand at approximately 14 months.

With Hunan Province now coming back on line (we should see substantial Hunan referrals in the next month or so), the supply-demand equation should normalize. But China still faces a demand imbalance. Hunan doesn't totally explain the longer DTC referral wait times, just a portion of it. Thus, China is taking further actions to bring things into line.

It seems likely at this point that one step China will make in the near-term is the dramatic reduction, if not outright elimination, of the singles program. China has had ambivalent attitudes towards this program for years, and has taken periodic steps to reduce the number of singles that could adopt. This ambivalence stems from the cultural belief that children should be raised by two-parent families, coupled with the desire that China's children not be raised by homosexuals. Letters of Declarations (required by single applicants declaring their heterosexuality) aside, it is widely believed that gay parents continue to apply for adoption. Thus, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the first step to reducing the number of families permitted to adopt would be the elimination of the singles program (A compromise solution to outright elimination of these families would be the requirement that they apply for a waiting child).

Additional restrictions seem likely, perhaps health restrictions, income requirements, lowering upper-age limits for parents, and other means of reducing the number of families eligible to adopt. Additionally, new orphanages will probably be brought into the IA program. These changes are intended to bring the supply-demand equation back into balance.

But the referral wait time will not be brought back below 12 months, the stated goal of the CCAA, because simply put the longer wait times work to China's favor. As wait times increase, more families look to alternative options, and one option that will be presented in ever more favorable light is the waiting children program. Expedited referrals will be used to improve the attractiveness of this program, and many families will opt to adopt a Special Needs child, thereby reducing the demand for the healthy young children that are becoming increasingly more difficult for China to supply.

If viewed through the prism of simple supply-demand models, the events of the last 12 months become understandable. Often as waiting families we focus on each months referals, feverishly projecting the past to try and ascertain the future (one website has projected the wait time for a family submitting their paperwork today at 2 1/2 years!). By stepping back, we can see the larger picture, and see how the steps being taken by China will impact how adoptions are done. With most of China's orphanages now in modern, third-generation facilities, the "need" for monies derived from the IA program is diminishing. It still exists, and for that reason the IA program will continue. But we must realize that it is China's right, and perogative, to alter the program as they see fit to insure the life-long well-being of her children.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Long Road to My Baby

China's population stands at 1.3 billion people. Often in our discussions about infant abandonment, domestic adoption, and other issues pertaining to International Adoption, we fail to see the trees for the forest. It is a big forest. Population estimates indicate that there are approximately 330 million couples in their reproductive years (20-50) in China. If these couples have the same infertility rate as couples in the West (10%), that equates to 33 million childless families.

The following story is a succinct yet heart-felt recounting of one Chinese woman's journey to motherhood. I met her on one of my research trips, and her story touched me deeply. It is a story that is at once familiar to many of us, yet also clearly illustrates the differences between our journeys and those in China.

It makes for profound reading.


One trying day towards the beginning of autumn 2002, due to a serious disease I was to have my uterus removed from my body. I never expected that I would have to face such a nightmare. My husband and I were just married and had yet to produce children. If my womb was taken from me, that meant that we would never be able to have children that were truly our own. This, in the eyes of a woman possessing Chinese traditional thinking and Chinese traditional desires, was a mortal blow. I have no way to convey the internal anguish caused by the loss that I had no choice but to face.

"Health is most important!" This is the sentence that my husband and family kept repeating to me. These words comforted me and encouraged me to do my best to actively cooperate with all of the doctor's work. Fortunately my illness was only in the initial stages, and so under the devoted care of my husband and family my body gradually recovered. At last, the continuation of my life was assured.

The days passed quickly, and my health continued to improve. We passed through the year happy and well. Nobody ever touched on the topic of children. My family worried that I was thinking too much of what I had lost and was quick to tell me once again that health is most important and to remind me to be sure to focus on my own recuperation. No matter what they would not abandon me. Nonetheless, the issue of children could only be briefly avoided. It had to be faced sooner or later! I began to ask myself repeatedly "What should I do? What should I do?"

Although I knew that my husband's father and mother were quite reasonable and extraordinarily kind hearted, more deeply I knew that they were a very traditional Chinese family. Moreover, my husband was their only male child. The old household of my husband was relatively backward and still gave a much loftier place to males. The ancestral feudalistic ways were thick and unwavering. In order to give birth to a son and "bring honor to the ancestors" many families would give all that they had. Families that failed to produce a son would be looked down upon and would not be able to hold their heads high. Our own family now had no hope of producing even our own little girl not to mention a treasured boy! Each time I thought on this matter while alone my eyes would be filled with tears, my inside filled with pain, and I would be left brimming with guilt towards my husband and family. At these times I would just repeatedly ask myself "What can I do? Adopt one? Ask another woman to have the child in my place? Divorce?”

I thought about it for a long time, but I could never make heads or tails of these perplexing questions. Truly, I had to admit that this disease and my inability to have children brought my husband and family immense pain and misfortune. This pain and misfortune certainly influenced the sentiment between us to a definite degree. As far as our future was concerned I did not want to think too much. That was too far away! My husband is a good person, and he was innocent. Nonetheless, divorce was the solution that I least wanted. Only if my husband were to bring it up himself would I respect his decision and accept divorce. To ask another woman to bear the child would also be quite a complex matter. I simply would not want to face the awkwardness and the bother in the future, and such an arrangement would no doubt cause me to sink back into anguish. Adoption eventually became the only natural choice. It was the choice that was best for my entire family, but what would they think? Would they accept it? At the beginning of 2004 our parents came to spend the Spring Festival with us. Mother brought up the topic of children. I was delighted to find out that they also supported adopting a child. For this decision I knew they had to throw away many of their traditional ways of looking at things, so I was moved to think that it had come out of concern for the future of my husband and I. Moreover, I was moved to feel gratified and at the same time to feel twice as much guilt and obligation towards them as before. They were so kind and reasonable! This kind of parents is really very hard to find.

My heart was really lifted then! Frankly speaking, to make that kind of decision, from the perspective of a very conservative mother and father, is really very hard and demands enormous courage. The only thing that I could do at the time was to silently resolve to warmly accept their approval. Oh my honorable parents! Just after telling me their opinion on the subject, mother said that due to the traditional way of thinking in our old home we would have to keep everything a secret from all of our neighbors and even our relatives. This all was to avoid the cold stares of those folk. Moreover, since my husband and I were constantly away from home working with few chances to return, it would be easy for those around our home to believe that the baby was indeed ours. We all therefore agreed with my mother's decision. I especially had no reason to disagree. I knew that this was a kind of necessary evil, and I deeply understood its importance. As far as my husband was concerned, he also approved of adopting a child, but he wanted to do so under a few conditions: He wanted a child from a completely normal healthy family. Specifically, he did not want a child born out of wedlock or one born without knowledge of his father. Secondly, he wanted to know some basic facts about the child's parents including about whether or not they had any hereditary diseases, their looks, and their moral character. Once satisfied he could agree to adopt. In fact, to a definite degree his way of thinking was in our best interest, and anyway I knew to adopt a child is somewhat unfair from the perspective of a husband. Who doesn't want to have their own child? I could only do my best to satisfy his small requests. Thus, we all agreed to adopt a child, and sooner rather than later.

In the male-biased old home of my husband, some women, in order to give birth to boy, first gave birth to more than a few girls. Owing to the fact that these households lack the ability to properly raise these children, most are sent to households that can better afford to do so. For this reason, we decided to look for opportunities to adopt children around my husband's old home. As soon as our parents returned home they began to make inquiries in all corners. In July of 2004, a close relative that works in a hospital called. She said that a woman there that had just given birth to her third girl was looking for a family in reasonable economic straits to which she could send her child to be raised. At the time as our mother was away visiting relatives, as my husband was wavering in hesitation, and because other potential adopters had already begun to make inquiries we soon had no choice but to let this opportunity go. After this I could not avoid feeling a little regretful and ended up spending the next few months in pain and anxiety. Somewhere around the Spring Festival of 2005, while talking with a friend I came to learn that she had adopted a lively and loveable little girl through an orphanage. Really pleasantly surprised, I decided to go to the orphanage myself. Perhaps I really would be able to get what I so desired from this unexpected opportunity. As I began to fill with hope I bustled about, inquiring about phone numbers and touching base with many welfare assistance centers. I made inquiries at the orphanage in the area that I was originally registered to live in, the one in which I now lived, the area where I work, and many other areas, totaling over ten orphanages. Nonetheless, contrary to my expectations, among them all I could not find any healthy baby girls to adopt. Outside of Guangxi province's Yulin city's center, all the centers used whatever reasons they could to turn me away. The thread of hope that had just been lit was extinguished in a moment. I was utterly disheartened.

Here I say that I was terribly disappointed that the orphanages told me that they had no children for me to adopt. Why? Why? Why? I wondered if these orphanages really had no babies for me to adopt, or if they did have babies but they never give me a chance. Why did they say no to a person who really wanted to adopt a child? They seemed to not care what I thought, and made me feel like salt was being poured into my wounds. I felt lost, and no longer knew what to do in order to find a child for my family.

China is a very traditional country, and most of the people are still very traditional and closed-minded. Nearly every couple hopes to have their own children, but 99% wish to have their own biological children. Some families, however, are not able to have biological children due to illness or other reasons. For these families life is very difficult, and since they can't have biological children, many get divorced and part ways. Adoption is the only way that many of these families feel they can stay together and remain as a family. For most infertile couples to be denied an adoption opportunity like I was would deal a fatal blow to many marriages.

Just as our entire family had once again sunken into helplessness, the relative from the hospital brought us some more news. She said that in the last couple of days a friend had come asking for her help. Her friend was to have a baby in just two months, and it seemed most likely that it would be her third girl. This friend wanted to give birth to a boy, so now she was looking for someone else that could raise this girl child. Speaking honestly, as far as our family was concerned, this really was exciting news! From our relative we came to learn more and more about the woman's family situation until we were completely satisfied. What's more the family of the child agreed never to see the child again. Even my husband willingly assented. After two long months of anxiety and anticipation, our long-awaited little girl finally arrived. Although we did in fact feel sorry for the little girl's family, we simply could not control our excitement. When the girl finally arrived the whole family was really very happy. We were really so happy then! Our little girl is an extremely lovely, beautiful, clever, little sweetheart. She is the best gift that heaven has given our family.

When I was arranging for our girl's hukou (household registration permit) mother put forward the idea of looking for someone to help us arrange for the hukous for a set of twins (one boy and one girl). She said that way if one did not work, for whatever reason, we could just get rid of it. I knew then that they were thinking that we might want to adopt another child, a boy. Honestly, why didn't I want to bring up another kid? That way would be healthier for the child's development then bringing him up alone, but we had to face reality. To bring up a single child is a great expense especially in a big city. We have to consider their education, medical treatment, and other costs. In our current economic state we really could not shoulder the burden of supporting two children. We could not afford to ensure that they both remained healthy or to give them any kind of truly beneficial childhood! It would be best just to raise one child and bring her up with all of our heart and soul. Such was the unanimous opinion of both I and my husband.

Speaking truthfully, I can understand why mother was thinking what she was. I can't blame her. Nonetheless, speaking from my innermost being I could only stand for raising one child. Yet, my heart was full of contradictions, really complicated feelings. Every scene from before was again flashing before my eyes. Mother and Father really exerted so much of themselves for me. During that brief period of time when I was in the hospital they took care of me in every possible way. After I got better, they still unceasingly encouraged and consoled me. They used all of the love that they had to forgive me for all the trouble that my disease had brought them. They were really an unfathomable pillar of support. I really should not once again be the cause of the sadness of these kindhearted parents! I thought then that perhaps I should stand in their position and think over the issue once again for their sake. So, being so moved, I have come to agree with mother's opinion. I hope that I can bring her a little comfort.

When our girl was half a year old we received a bit of news. There was a family that already had a grown boy, but now its mother had accidentally become pregnant once again. What's more the period in which abortion was allowed had already passed. If the baby born was a boy the family wanted to send it to someone that could take care of it. Father and mother were very happy to hear this bit of news, but because my husband was still entirely against adopting a baby boy they had no choice but to abandon this opportunity. Yet the matter is really not fully over and done with, we still don't have any way to know the final outcome. My husband's opinion on the subject is still the same as before. Now even I don't think about it too much. Everything that happens has its reason.

In short, no matter what, the thing that I most want to do is take very good care to raise my little girl well. I want to do my utmost to see that she can grow up healthy and strong.