Saturday, March 18, 2006

What We Can Learn from Hunan

Discussions on A-P-C and elsewhere show that tremendously important lessons can be learned from the events recently concluded in Hunan Province. It might do well to summarize what we have learned and the lessons we can take away from this event.

Most adoptive families choose China as a result of the perception that there are "thousands" of unwanted children languishing in the orphanages. The events in Hunan, and a growing body of other evidence, clearly show that this is not the case, at least in the case of those orphanages that participate in the international adoption program.

At its foundation, the Hunan story centered on a director who sought to purchase young children to increase adoption fees to his own orphanage and the orphanages in his immediate area. We can debate the reasons he did this, whether it was to line his own pockets or to get enough money to improve the facility he ran; but the bottom line is he wanted more money.

Parents can take comfort in the fact that the children were trafficked from Wuchuan (Guangdong) to Hunan, and not from Wuchuan to the Wuchuan orphanage. It seems likely these traffickers contacted the large orphanages in Wuchuan and Zhanjiang, because directors in Guangdong have confirmed to me that they have been contacted in the past (it is not known if the traffickers were the same ones involved in this story). So it seems, at least anecdotally, that most directors wished no part of a baby-trafficking program. As one director recounted her response, "We will take in all babies that are abandoned, but we will not pay for them."

But a few directors decided to take them. Why? If there are so many unwanted children being found, what is the incentive for these orphanages to take in more children? Because it is becoming clear that the number of healthy baby girls being abandoned is falling, at the same time demand for these children is increasing.

One would have to travel several times to China to gain an appreciation how quickly things are changing here. On my first trip to rural DianBai (Guangdong) six years ago, I had to prepare for the trip by bringing my own cash, my own laptop (usable only with dial-up), and expect to eat only Chinese food. The only hotel was at the end of the main street and had little heating and no hot water. The stores were limited to small shops along the main street. It was a small town in the backwoods of China.

Today, DianBai has transformed itself. On my last visit, I found four Bank of China branches with ATMs, I ate in Western restaurants, stayed in a three-star hotel with in-room high speed internet, and showered in blistering hot water. I walked their new shopping mall filled with designer clothing shops, electronics, and other modern conveniences.

I see this transformation occurring wherever I travel. I am about ready to name the building crane China's national bird.

This transformation is having a dramatic affect on the number of children abandoned in China. Nearly every orphanage director I speak with confirms that the number of children being found is falling. This is due to two forces: increased ability to pay the fines associated with illegally birthed children and decreasing traditionalism, which bestows a preference on boys.

The increased affluency would lead to an increase in the domestic demand for children, as more couples are able to afford to adopt a child. Thus, domestic adoption rates are probably increasing, at the same time international demand climbs, and the number of children found is decreasing.

This creates the perfect storm found in Hengyang, and explains why a director would buy babies.

A Chinese couple wanting a child has four options for obtaining a child. Frequently, if they live in the countryside, word is put out that they are interested in adopting an unwanted child, and often a match is made with another couple. A friend of mine recently experienced this first-hand as her husband's mother let is be known that my friend and her husband were interested in a son (they had an adopted daughter, and in fact were happy, but the mother-in-law felt otherwise). Within a year, the husband's mother was told of a couple who wanted a girl but were pregnant with a boy (not every unwanted child is a girl!). My friend declined the child, but this case illustrates a primary method employed to locate a child.

Another way for wealthier families to obtain a child is through contacting an orphanage. Since adoption fees in even non-internationally adopting orphanages are often in the range of 3-5,000 yuan ($400-700 USD), one must be firmly middle-class to afford this route. But clearly more and more families are finding this as an acceptable way to build a family (I will be detailing the stories of three adoptive families from China in a future blog).

Families who lack financial means and social status are left with only two alternatives: buying a baby from a trafficker and kidnapping one. Baby trafficking is common in China, as the Hunan story illustrates. What must be remembered is that Liang Guihong, the Wuchuan woman responsible for collecting the trafficked children, had been performing "adoptive" services for nearly a decade, finding homes for the unwanted children that were brought to her.

As adoptive parents, we must realize that all of the trafficking and kidnapping stories we read about deal with one common theme: They all are driven by families in China who wish to have children.

We must realize that for the most part, the days of healthy, unwanted children staying in orphanages for long periods of time is over. Anecdotal evidence such as visits to orphanages "full of children" supply scant evidence, because tghe processing time from finding to international adoption is usually a minimum of eight months, and can often take up to 18 months. Healthy babies seen on orphanage visits are almost certainly at some point of the international adoption process.

There are a large number of children found, but again that has no bearing on the supply of available children in the orphanages unless the domestic and international adoption rates is also known. Eventually, if it hasn't already, the domestic demand for children will overtake supply, and it will be time to terminate China's international adoption program. Are we prepared for that day?


Anonymous said...

The number of children adopted from China over the last three or four years has not increased significantly. And it appears pretty insignificant when compared to the overall numbers of abandoned kids (per your own data). So I don't understand how increased "demand" can be overtaking the (supposedly) dwindling supply of healthy baby girls (and boys).

Many couples might *want* to adopt from China but the reality is that China puts a cap (or so I'm led to believe) on the number of children that may be internationally adopted each year. Increased wait times from DTC/LID to referral seem to prove this.

I admit that my information isn't first hand, as much of yours seems to be, but our daughter was adopted six months ago and she was 14 months old and very healthy. Why did she have to wait so long for a family if orphanages are resorting to drastic measures to keep up with the demand for healthy orphans? And why are there are 100 other babies remaining at her orphanage today? If there is a shortage of healthy infants, why are there any healthy kids remaining in any of the orphanages that do IA?

Until the cap is lifted (or increased) on the number of IA allowed, I don't see how anyone could conclude that there are too many prospective parents and not enough kids.


Anonymous said...

I read this post with interest, but have a lot of the same questions as the above commenter. My next question is, and forgive my naivete, if there is such a shortage of healthy babies, but we have many other orphanages that just are not open to IA, why not open them up to be part of the IA program? I've always been curious about this, and in light of recent events, it's a question of mine that begs to be answered. Like I said, forgive my naivete if my question seems quite simple or silly. Just trying to educate myself.

Anonymous said...

How many children are abandoned each year that enter SWI's? How many SWI's participate in domestic adoption? How many SWI's participate in international adoption?

Anonymous said...

Brian, You said on previous posts, "but the sad reality is that annually an estimated 250,00 children (mostly girls) are abandoned in China, 35,00 of which ends up in China's foreign adoption program." You are really getting me frustrated and wishing you'd give us a straight story. You have alot of first-hand information, yes, but you're getting on my nerves! Where do you stand? As adoptive parents, we're not stupid, or biased. I understand that the numbers could be decreasing. But I don't think that "the days of children languishing in the orphanages are over" either. Obviously there ARE children languishing in these orphanages. Stop talking out of both sides of your mouth.

Anonymous said...


I, too, have noted inconsistencies in what Mr. Stuy writes, and am glad that you posted your frustration and questions. Like you, I am interested in knowing where the truth lies, and these kinds of inconsistencies do not bring confidence in Mr. Stuy's research.

Hopefully your post won't be censored as mine were!


Anonymous said...

Does attacking Brian help? As long as he says what you want to hear he's fantastic, the minute he tells you what he is seeing and hearing in China you turn on him? There have been a number of people who have been to China recently saying the orphanages they visited appeared to be nearly empty of NSN children. Are you waiting for the CCAA to tell you personally that things are changing? The Chinese are adopting their country's orphans (domestic) but it is not as easy for them as it is for foreigners to adopt. The process can take two years for a domestic adoption in China. Continue believing what your adoption agency is telling you if it gives you comfort but don't shoot the messenger if the message isn't what you want to hear- just move on! I'm sure the referrals will keep coming, most certainly slower than before but probably much faster than for Chinese citizens waiting for a domestic adoption.

Read the post from this blog entitled "At Mother's Love Orphanage" for the view of someone in China now and her comments on the orphanage and domestic adoptions.

Another resource of interest:

Thank you for the updates Brian.

Anonymous said...

From: Alliance For Children- china Adoption Program

3. Some adoption workers have concerns about the future of international adoption. The main purpose of the recent changes in Chinese law was to increase the number of Chinese domestic adoptions. It is expected that under the new law, there will be a large increase of domestic adoptions in China. Will there be any children left for international adoption? No one really knows. What will happen also depends on the Chinese authorities who always have enough power to change the current practice into something better.

4. Charity workers, humanists, international strategic administrators, etc., will find many of the changes to be positive. The principle is that all countries should try their best to solve their own problems, including the problem of homeless children, so as to lessen the potential risk of friction between countries, nations, races and cultures. Many feel that China's adoption policy changes are a big advancement in its effort to deal with its social problems caused by the side-effects of enforced family planning and the strong sexism in Chinese cultural tradition.

Anonymous said...

According to what I know and what I heard from China, you are right Brian.
I support you.
But this will be difficult to accept for some parents...

Thank you

Anonymous said...


I am an adoptive parent. I heard that you are "well-known in the adoption area". Thus I read your post because I was told that the discussion here was a bit more educated.

Believe me, I'm open to a number of different views.

I also see you've been to China a few times. So have I. I agree that the landscape is changing quite a bit.

But respectfully, I have a few comments for this post.

1. We did not adopt from China because of a "perception that there are 'thousands' of unwanted children languishing in the orphanages." I think it a bit presumptuous that you assume this.

2. There are a string of adjectives in this post which show a lack of objectivity, starting with "the domestic adoption rates are probably increasing", and it just gets worse from there. "Probably"? You mean you don't know? Since the rest of the post's deductive logic based on this assumption, it seems like you're going off on a rather long limb with your editorial discussion.

3. I read your article with interest, and it provides some interesting perspective on China, but I saw the last comment, "Are we prepared for that day.", and it sounded a bit dramatic, don't you think?

Anyway, I hope you don't mind the feedback, but the drama and sensationalism negates the credibility, in my opinion.


Anonymous said...

One comment based on my one and only trip to China to bring home my sn daughter from Dao SWI in Hunan. I found it very difficult to get any consistent answers from anyone living in China on controversial subjects. Where ever we traveled the answers were vague, very different or just didn't make sense. As American's we are used to the right to voice our opinions or pass along information with out retaliation from the government. I believe this lack of freedom in China affected this ability to get straight answers. Mr. Stuy can only pass along the information he is given, inconsistent or not. I understand his view is just that, his view. But it gives me a look into a complex subject & country I could never have otherwise. I take what I want & leave the rest. I "eat the meat & spit out the bones" so to say and thank God every day I live in a country where I am free to say & do as I please. I appreciate Mr. Stuy's view into this subject.

Anonymous said...

You can speak about all freely in China. It is simply necessary to avoid in public certain subjects about politicy . The remainder is sometimes a question of culture or language. Brian does not have these obstacles.

Anonymous said...

You know, I thought Jenna was a little dramatic (and I still think so) but to be completely honest, I'm beginning to see her point of view. This will be my last visit to your blog - too many assumptions and vague responses riddled with inaccuracies. I can get that from my DTC Yahoo group.

I have a feeling your business has been hurt and will suffer from your latest post,

Anonymous said...

I have no argument or quibble with the article and the facts presented.

I struggle a bit with what you are trying to get across Brian. Maybe you could expand on this article?
I am just trying to figure out the intent of the story, and what the facts are trying to relay.

If the point is that the evolution of China is leaving less children orphaned, and even less available for international adoption, I don't know how that can be argued. Some of what you state (regarding numbers in orgphanages/adoptions, etc.) is short of supporting evidence in this article, but seems to make sense at a gut level.

I am just trying to figure out the point. As a PAP, should I be concerned? how concerned? And I mean concern for the children in China, not concerned for my own self-interest. Is trafficking widespread, or just an inevitable fact of IA, even in a relativly corruption free system (relativel being a key word)?

I have no doubt international adoption will become more difficult in China as time goes on
and standards of living increase in China as the country grows. But where does the situation truly stand now? I am not totally clear on that from your article, sorry.

Anonymous said...

I've read this over a couple of times and what's leaving me wanting is a round table discussion from some of the many people who have a view of what's going on with the adoption system in China. I think many people have a small slice of the truth and I wish we could all get together in one room to hear a panel that would include speakers from Half the Sky, Altrusa, OCDF, to name a few.

Anonymous said...

I have been feeling the same way. Brian is one voice, I'd sure like to hear from others that are currently working in the Chinese adoption community whether it's charity/ humanitarian or domestic related. We need more voices to get an better picture of what is taking place. It's a struggle though because we are used to such freedoms and we are all adoptive parents to a country that has tight government contol over the release of information.

My thinking is that the days of foreign adoption are not over (yet) and Brian's announcement is a bit premature. However, I do think that perhaps there are less girls available depending on the province. We visited our daughter's province a year ago and her SWI was filled to the maximum with children waiting to be adopted.

In my mind, the number that is missing are how many children are abandonedand entering SWI's? Without knowing this, a lot of information is going to be antedotal (like my example above). Further, how many Chinese families are adopting? If there is an increase, are we talking about from 5% to 10%?(Which is significant, but in the big picture it possibily leaves thousands of adoptable children).

Anonymous said...

It’s very difficult to get the straight dope on the number of abandoned children in China and the number “languishing” in orphanages. Back in the early 90’s the Chinese government made these numbers official secrets (according to Kay Johnson’s book “Wanting a daughter, needing a son.”). Presumably this is because China does not want the rest of the world to see the full extent of the problem. China also does not have a free press, so what is reported in the Chinese press (as in the recent baby trafficking case) doesn’t necessarily reflect the ground truth.

Brian, because of his finding-add business, sees a lot of what’s going on regarding this issue and as a result, I felt this gave him an intuition about the true situation. Therefore, I have found his postings to be very useful to gauge the validity and slant of various press pieces. Unfortunately, it now looks like despite his closeness to the situation, Brian is just as confused as the rest of us. Or maybe things really are changing very fast just now. It’s clear that Brian is NOT just posting what he thinks we want to hear to promote his business. His recent “inconsistencies” may actually represent his changing view of the changing situation as he sees and learns more.

As an adoptive parent, and one who is waiting for a second NSN child from China, what I would really like to know is if I am helping the overall plight of abandoned children in China, or making it worse. Up until now, I have always assumed the former, or we wouldn’t be adopting from China, but now I can no longer be so sure.

For now, it seems like all I can do is trust in the Chinese government. Because having an IA program only makes the world scrutinize the situation more, I’m thinking that the Chinese government would not have one if it weren’t really helping. I try to weigh all the variables of how IA helps and how it hinders, but with no solid facts, it’s impossible to draw a meaningful conclusion. Maybe China has already decided it will phase out IA, and the increasing wait times is their way of shrinking and eventually getting rid of the IA program.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the CCAA issued some kind of clear statement instead of its vague missives. I’m not holding my breath though.

It seems that even the scholarly researchers who have done work in this area were very limited as to the number and type orphanages they were able to look at. In the end, I’m left where I was in the beginning. I don’t know what the real situation is, and I’m only left to guess what’s true and what’s not. If the IA program really is bad for China’s orphans overall, then I can only hope that the Chinese gov’t will discontinue it – and until they do, or until I hear some conclusive evidence, I will have to believe that it is helping and our adoption is benefiting both our family and China’s orphans as a whole.


Anonymous said...

I have adopted one daughter from China and am awaiting the referral of a second child. I hope, for my sake and for my daughter's, that that second referral comes through. It wouldn't surprise me though if international adoption in China were to come to an end fairly soon however. How can people just assume that it will continue indefinitely? China is undergoing such rapid change and the adoption situation is bound to change along with everything else. I do get the sense that some adopting parents do assume that it will just go on indefinitely. But it does seem a little unproductive to dwell on the question of how long it will continue. There are a lot of other questions that adoptive families should be interested in. For example, the adoption travel business in China is bound to continue to grow--even if international adoption in China stopped tomorrow (with so many adopted kids growing up abroad). How is that going to be conducted? What sort of ethical issues might be involved? This is just one example.
Anyway, I applaud Brian's research, cannot believe the abuse he puts up with in the comments, and I look forward to reading what he posts about domestic adoption in China.

Anonymous said...

Think positive; I'm sure everybody in process now will get a kid of the type they've requested (nsn or sn), and I expect IA is going to be part of the solution in china for a long, long time -- indefinitely I expect. Changing attitudes is the work of many decades and the rising tide hasn't yet lifted all boats if it ever will -- and there are SN kids there, perhaps most of them, for whom IA will always be the primary hope for a permanent home. Probably a goodly number of nsn kids too, though one hopes more and more could be served domestically as time goes by.

That said -- waiting times could certainly get longer and quotas could come back, if domestic really gets a federal push. So far there are whispers/inklings and for sure the establishment of CCAA's domestic division last Nov. is a big step for them -- but how long it will take to really gain the kind of traction required to cut into the IA numbers, who knows?

Meanwhile, keep the faith -- big changes could occur within 9 years but I wouldn't expect them within 9 or 10 months...

Julie H

Anonymous said...

China's international adoption program may start placing fewer children because of the country's improved economy, but I doubt that it will come to a complete halt.

First, Brian's statement that domestic adoption in China will overtake international adoption is a total assertion. No one knows how many domestic adoptions take place now in China, and no one can predict what the demand will be in the future. Chinese culture and the introduction of in vitro fertilization and other infertility treatments in China may dampen the domestic demand somewhat.

Second, we can look to South Korea for some idea of what might happen in China. International adoption has clearly dropped in that country as a result of economic progress, but still 1,700 Korean children were adopted by Americans last year. (And keep in mind that China is a much larger country than Korea.)

I agree with Brian's main point that number of NSN children in Chinese orphanages will drop in the coming years. He wonders what will happen then. Will the US adoption community be able to handle it?

Sure it will. If Chinese children aren't available, adoptable children from other countries will surface or motivated adoptive parents will seek them out. We've seen this happen many times in the past several decades; no reason to believe it won't happen again.


Anonymous said...

there are an article "China’s Policy on Children and the Protection of Juveniles" on CCAA's web pages with some numbers of children born in China. according to those figures less childer are born, so one can assume that less children are abandoned each year, especially when there are economical and cultural changes to that direction also.

S from Finland

Anonymous said...

Man, I just had to stop reading. Most of the comments above were making me sick and were embarassing me to be even a small part of this community. I have been a part of this "community" of adoptive parents for over 6 years. We have 2 very beautiful daughter's from China. There isn't a day that goes by that I am not thankful for them but I also sit and wonder about their birth mother. What if the Chinese were sitting here talking about us and how nervous they were that our number of abandoned children were going down. GOOD FOR THEM. Praise to God that these children can remain in their own country and own culture and grow up strong and healthy.

Also, praise to Bryan and others like him. If you all have so many questions why don't YOU get on a plane and go find them out for yourself. You just might come back eating some humble pie. Remember, Bryan is a parent just like all of us except he took it a step farther. He decided to not be okay with just being okay and accepting the little information he got about his daughters when he adopted them. He has taken HIS time and for VERY LITTLE money has hoped on a plane SEVERAL times to go, as a foreigner, into REMOTE orphanages halfway around the world to find ONE TINY SCRAP of information about our children. HE is the one who is asking the questions, HE is the one who is taking his time to find out all he can FOR US. I don't know about all of you but it didn't cost me ONE DIME to come to this site today to read his information. ANYBODY who is educated on the adoption process and on the birth country of their children SHOULD KNOW that in China what is said isn't always the WAY IT IS. In our family we say "yes means maybe", "no means maybe" and "maybe means maybe" when you are getting information from China. It is just the way it is. Until we can accept that and move on and try to glean as much information as we can about children and THEIR country and stay as educated as we can I say to follow the golden rules of "Be Kind" and, I agree, DON"T SHOOT THE MESSANGER! Shame on you if you did.

Anonymous said...

I don't think people are "afraid" that the number of abandoned children in China is going down. What I am concerned about is potential adoptive parents thinking that the kids in Chinese orphanages don't need parents anymore because domestic adoption will take care of them--which is not true at this point in time. And some prospective parents have posted here that they are confused.

I don't think anyone is trying to "shot" Bryan. Most of us are extremely grateful for the work he does and for the openness of this forum. However if we think he's got something wrong, we are certainly going to tell him. And to his credit, he seems to what our comments.


Anonymous said...

I have a dumb question that will likely reflect my lack of research - if China is not relaxing the one child policy, how is it possible that most of the available children in China will be adopted domestically?

According to this link:

the estimate is that 10% of couples in China face infertility. Considering a percentage of those will get pregnant via treatment, is it really possible that most abandoned babies will be adopted domestically soon?

I do wish the best for the babies in China and if there are homes for them in their home land than I am thrilled. But I would like to know if my adopting a baby from China is a good thing or am I taking her away from a local family that wants to give her a home? I chose not to go the fertility treatment route as I want to build my family with children that need homes since I need a child to fill my heart. This is a sincere question - if anyone has insight on this I'd appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Brian - on March 13 you said the following "The international adoption program has altered the dynamics of domestic adoption in China. Children adopted internationally would have gone to domestic homes is they had not been adopted by a Western couple. All of them? No. Most of them? Probably not. So, one can't advocate stopping the international adoption program because there is no doubt that would result in many children remaining in the orphanages. "

And on this post, March 18 (5 days later), you insinuate that the rise in domestic adoptions have resulted in a shortage of babies available for international adoption by making a few points, most notably the following "Eventually, if it hasn't already, the domestic demand for children will overtake supply, and it will be time to terminate China's international adoption program"

I am typically very silent on adoptive chat boards so this is a stretch for me. I am having a hard time following the conclusions you are making. If there is a possibility that I am taking a child away from a childless couple in China than I need to know how true this is. Can you please elaborate on your conclusion here? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Your comments about a decreasing number of children being available for international adoption, and overall abandonment rates and their decline are certainly the case in the area of southern Jiangxi province where my youngest daughter is from. This was confirmed by the Director of her CWI in late 2004.Info from a caregiver in northern Anhui province also bear out that our older daughter's CWI is now involved in more long-term fostering and cares for a growing number of special needs children. I also know that 'crackdowns' in birth quotas leads to a spike in abandonment rates, so while the overall trend may be less abandonments/less healthy children in CWIs, there certainly are periods when the rate goes up. None of this is static and there are many variables. I commend you for presenting a forum where these ideas and findings can be dicussed.


Anonymous said...

I am not ready.