Thursday, February 23, 2006

What is the Truth in Hunan?

The trial began this week for 10 individuals, including one orphanage director, involved in last November's Hunan baby scandal. As reported last year, 50 individuals were arrested after allegations were made by an orphanage employee that the infants being trafficked had been kidnapped. As speculation began to mount that perhaps some of these children had been adopted internationally, the Chinese government stopped the press in China from reporting on the story, leaving thousands of adoptive families wondering what had really happened.

But as Anthony Kuhn reports on NPR's "All Things Considered", as the trial gets underway this week in Hunan, the defense is proving that things were not all that they appeared. Forty of the original fifty defendants have been released. After two days of defense witnesses in the trial of the remaining ten, it appears that the children involved were not kidnapped, but purchased from birth parents and trafficked to Hunan for adoption.

All eighteen children were girls, each having birth dates within a few days of each other. All eighteen were from a town near Wuchuan in Guangdong Province. No police reports were received for any of the missing children, and no parents came forward after the publishing of the pictures of the children in an area newspaper.

So, the kidnapping charges will be dropped, right? It is not that simple. Apparently this story is exposing a darker side of Chinese bureacracy, and officials are afraid that the defense testimony will reveal the graft and corruption imbedded in the local government of Hengyang. The defense is showing that the trafficking and adoption of babies is a pie many people have their fingers in, and to avoid an international scandal, pressure is being put on the judge of this case to convict the director and his nine co-defendants regardless of the evidence.

But for adoptive families, it is of great comfort to know that the children involved in this case (at least the 18 involved in the current trial) were not kidnapped, but were brokered by their birth parents to a conduit woman who brought them to the orphanage for sale. No doubt this knowledge will allow all of us greater peace of mind as we tuck our Chinese daughters and sons into bed tonight.

(To listen to NPR's report, click here)


Anonymous said...

This may bring some of us *some* comfort, I would hardly call it *great* comfort. Kidnapping children of the purposes of supplying international adoption is certainly more heinous than birthparents brokering them - however, this news will give me little peace of mind tonight as I watch my sweet child drift to sleep. Instead I agonize over the many losses she has faced in her young life - birth family, birth country, and amidst it all, the ability to ever know with certainty the truth of her earliest days. Children are not commodities - but it becomes increasingly difficult to defend that statement credibly with news like this. China offers an excellent international adoption program, but none of us should become too complacent or too blind to the possiblity of corruption. It can happen there - it can happen in our own country. The question is, do we care enough to speak out for the rights of children and birth families? Even if it means fewer children available for adoption? We must, in my opinion, for that elusive peace of mind you mention.

I would like to add that, for those who heard the NPR story, their figure of $30,000 was very inflated. The fees that are paid to an orphanage in China are US$3,000. A more representative *total* cost of a China adoption - including fees to China, the U.S. government, a domestic adoption agency, travel expenses, etc. is closer to $17,000. Still a lot of money, to be sure, but the difference is considerable as well.

Anonymous said...

Certainly, there are better solutions than baby abandonment or trafficking to deal with population control in China. Yet I couldn't help but wonder which is worse...both are heart-wrenching and seemingly inconceivable choices to many of us, as they must have been to these sisters of ours in China. For a mother in a very restricted-options culture, what is she to do? It's difficult to imagine what I would do if I found myself in a place where population control is enforced, and the rights of my family are restricted (not to mention the rights to control my own body). Though hard to say, maybe if I was a mother with virtually no resources or choices, I might do as these mothers did. If someone I knew assured me that my child would be taken to an orphanage and cared for immediately (rather than my having to abandon her in a public place somewhere, leaving her alone until someone happened to discover her), I might consider taking the resources offered in return for her safe transport to an orphanage. I think it must be very challenging for most Americans to relate to being a woman in China, considering our freedom here. I know I tend to take many of my own liberties for granted. Stories like this make me think twice, to be sure. Having read your blog the last few months has given me much to think about. This is a very complex topic contained in a complex culture that I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to understand.

Anonymous said...

"What is the truth", the title has been well selected. Thank you Brian. Can one await defense to say all the true? Will the whole truth come out of this? No doubt that a number among us will agree it's all the true, it's reassuring.
How will I say to my daughter that her parents perhaps sold her?
We shouldn't forget that the Chinese are never really obliged to separate from their children, much won't do it.

Anonymous said...

The idea of "baby finders" is not new ... and I think that presented with a choice to leave a child, that you have carried inside you for 9 months, beside a bus stop or perhaps turn her over to an orphange 'baby finder', it is not unreasonable to think a birthfamily would think that is the better choice.

The situation is far more complex than "simple" baby trafficking .... the system is designed to work against the birthfamily: they can not keep the child and yet if they abandon the child they are faced with fines, prison or worse. The fact that our children have been carried to term and born is, in itself, an act of bravery, considering what could happen to the birthfamily.

Faced with leaving my child, wrapped in a quilt, in a market or outside a brickyard, I too might seek an alternative. Knowing that the "baby finder" is coming, I might hide my child and wait -- figuring that at least I will know she will arrive at the orphanage safely. The fact that a birthfamily may have received a small fee is something that I doubt they considered, and may not have happened at all, but if it did, I do not look at it as the same as 'selling' the child, at least not in the sense it would apply in the West.

Walking in another's shoes is difficult when you yourself are walking in fairly comfortable shoes .... we do not have any idea what the birthfamilies situations are, and honestly, even in our wildest imaginations, we would undoubtedly fall short.

I can not judge the birthfamily of my children ... I am simply thankful that they took the risk they did and gave them life, and then made the difficult decisions that placed my children in the care of the SWI staff.

I understand China's concern - I understand the concern of adoptive families - and I understand my own concern about how to present the 'complete picture' to my daughters. But we must all remember that we do NOT have a complete picture - and we undoubtedly never will.

The entire situation hurts my heart and saddens my soul .... but there are many things in life about which I will never know the whole story and as hard as it is, it is my duty to ensure my children understand that, too.

Anonymous said...

NPR definitely got it wrong regarding the $30,000 number, and I wrote them immediately after hearing the story -- and I expect others did, too. $3,000 is not a negligible amount in the Chinese economy, but it's not the staggering sum that $30K would be -- and the story made it sound that this $30K was going directly to Chinese officials. Wrong. I hope and expect them to correct this.

Nevertheless, I continue to wonder, as Brian has publicly wondered in other places, how much the international adoption contributions to the SWIs are propping them up -- for instance, propping up capital construction of homes for senior citizens. If they are so dependent on us as a revenue source, they have zero incentive to encourage domestic adoption by making it cheaper for their own people.

As much as I love and longed for my kids, most people agree that the cultural displacement of international adoption is better avoided if at all possible. This is why I continue to struggle with the sociopolitical aspects and ethics of international adoption, and wonder what better answers might be. (Easy for me to say, I know, since I have my kids already ... but the amount of kidnapping and baby-trafficking scandals that have occurred in other "sending" countries makes me so, so wary of just blindly accepting the "this was an orphan who needed a home" story at face value.)

Anonymous said...

No doubt this knowledge will allow all of us greater peace of mind as we tuck our Chinese daughters and sons into bed tonight.

---> I hope this is sarcasim. The parents did this most likely because they needed the money. It is possibly a reflection of the great devide between haves and have nots. This brings me little comfort, and I doubt when my daughter is older she'll find any solice with this information.

Anonymous said...

As a parent to a daughter adopted in Hunan, I hardly find any of this comforting. I have a hard time understanding how anyone can be comforted just because their child is not one of the 18. I don't think any of us will know for sure if our daughter(s) were a part of this in the past.

It casts doubt on how (many? some?) children come to be in the orphanages... I ache for my daughter... for she will know about this one day (or it will happen again when she is older) and will want to know if she was one of the children who were sold.

No, there's no comfort in any of this.

Anonymous said...

From the moment I heard the initial reports of the Hunan situation my heart has ached--my daughter is from Hunan. Whatever the "truth" may be I would have to agree with other post that neither possibilities are comforting.

I spent our first month home with our daughter weeping at some point in my day as I looked at her and considered the choice that her birth mother had made--perhaps she is grieving, perhaps she had no choice, perhaps . . . I will never know. To then consider either of the mentioned possibilities, trafficking or parents selling their children because of their own needs, leaves my heart weighted. Each time I look at my daughter, I am amazed by her beauty, personality and the gift that she is in my life.

This is all quite complex and many questions may always weigh in my heart regarding these matters.

I appreciate the other post to this situation

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post on the trial--I was wondering if there would be any follow-up in the press.

I am glad that these babies weren't stolen but the whole idea of parents selling their babies is almost as difficult to deal with. I understand that some of these families are incredibly poor and may really need the money, but I don't find the idea comforting.

Anonymous said...

If my parents sold me I would
not forgive them so easily.

Anonymous said...

These girls were abandoned. So the parents benefitted in the transaction... so what? Many of the reasons for giving them up in the first place are also financial - can't afford the fines, can't afford to have job threatened, need a boy to care for you when you are older, can't afford medical care for a special needs child.

Actually receiving money in the act of abandonment has a certain blatant crassness to it that we, from our perspective, are sensitive to. But let's not forget that financial considerations are likely a part of *every* abandoned Chinese child's story!!

Anonymous said...

I hardly think that these new facts would give us as adoptive parents peace of mind. Rather, it brings up more questions, among which is - what is our child's real birth story? And how would we explain this to our child? Are we telling our child lies if we stick to the story on our referral form?

Then there's the larger question. Romanian adoptions were closed to the US due to such corruption. This left many would-be parents with significant losses - not only of their would-be children, but of money as well. And it left children without new homes that they badly need. Would we want China to be closed to the US for adoption as well?

Anonymous said...

I have no starry-eyed illusions about the plight of girl children in China. China has a long history of selling girls and women. No matter what the truth about Hunan, ALL Chinese baby girls come with a cultural heritage that is not very pretty when it comes to its treatment of females. That is a truth we will all have to communicate to our daughters, no matter how much we want to tell them pretty stories about "Your birth mommy who wanted you but couldn't keep you."

What is new about the situation of girl children in China is the international element. What makes me uncomfortable is a valid, though ugly, idea that Chinese baby girls are a commodity and that I, as an American, can get a baby girl the same way I can get cheap chinese toys at Wal-Mart. (Their supply, my demand).

What would make me feel better about this? I'm not sure. I guess some people comfort themselves with beliefs in their altruism and the helpless neediness of the children. Some people believe in destiny. Some people believe in a calling from God.

I can't really swallow those stories. As a veteran parent, I know that parenting is as much about our desires to have children as it is about a child's need to have a family. I don't believe in God or destiny either. I believe that we can try to make the best choices possible in a largely random universe.

I, too, would like to know what happens to the Chinese orphans who are not adopted internationally. I would like to know how I fit, as an American "consumer", in the Chinese marketplace of girl children.

I'm so grateful for researchers like Brian who take us beyond the romanticism of adoption and allow us to make informed decisions about our actions.


Anonymous said...

It might bring comfort to some adoptive parents that their child was sold by their birth parents. I have two teenage daughters (and two younger sons) adopted from China. When they were adopted the orphanages were brimming with unwanted children, now with so many adoptive families trekking to China the orphanages are trying to fill those demands. We have contributed to the problem.
From my children's perspective it would be devastating to learn that they may have been sold by their B family. To have been kidnapped fits into an abandoned child's fantasy of what may have happened to them. Just ask my 8 year old son?