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."


Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Oh this confirms my worst possible fears! My heart is torn apart to think that by wanting to adopt a Chinese child into our (Chinese) family, that we are unwittingly promoting the abduction (from loving parents, I assume!) and the selling of children. The scale is much larger than I had imagined. We are many months away from our referral - there is still time to change our minds, I guess.

When we first started this journey we were so naive, thinking that adoption was the best solution for a needy child as well as for us. Win-win situation, right??

However, it has been my opinion all along that the USD3000 CASH "donation" is a serious temptation for the unscrupulous. The CCAA could make things harder for the criminals and make progress towards reassuring prospective parents that things are "above board", simply by implementing measures that account for the cash that is given (receipts issued, money orders instead of cash - something traceable once it leaves the "donor's" hands...) Is this even possible? Or do you think this would make a difference, Brian? Are there any solutions?

Thanks so very much for your hard work, Brian, and for providing this translation. I am looking forward to the next installments.

Canadian mom-to-be

Research-China.Org said...

Although there was no evidence that any of the children in the Hunan case were abducted (kidnapped), it is nevertheless interesting that the traffickers contemplated it as a way to obtain children.

For me, the Hunan story is not about the trafficking of children. I personally have no strong moral objections to birth families willingly reliquishing their children to individuals who then transport them to orphanages. It is not a perfect world, and I understand the pressures placed on birth parents.

For me, the primary cause for concern in the Hunan story was the creation of a market for these children, one that possible absorbed children that would not have been abandoned otherwise. The reality is that many birth parents in China, when faced with an unwated child, would keep that child out of moral reasons. But if they heard that the orphanage was BUYING unwanted children, this would certainly have an impact on teh decision, and no doubt this resulted in more children being reliquished by their birth parents. For me, that is the crime here -- the creation of an extraordinary market for children that I believe resulted in children being given up that otherwise would not have been.

There are solutions, none of which China will impliment.

1) I believe each child adopted from China should have, as part of their adoption paperwork, a copy of the police report detailing the circumstances of the finding. Date, time and finder should be spelled out. This would allow the orphanage, the CCAA, or the adoptive family access to the original finder. In this way it would be very difficult for orphanage directors, traffickers, etc. to fabricate abandonment statements like they did in Hunan.

2) Allow the press in China to investigate and make aware cases of abuse.

The other problem on which the Hunan story sheds light is the overwhelming evidence that there is a declining number of healthy children being found, and this is putting considerable pressure on orphanage directors to increase their cash-flows. Caring for SN children is terribly expensive, and for the orphanages the primary source of funding is the international adoption program. Thus, international families can do the most good by adopting SN children rather than healthy children (keeping in mind that SN encompasses a very wide spectrum of children, from those with scars, cleft lips, extra fingers, to those with more serious needs).


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Brian, for all the information you bring to us. As a mom of a Hengshan baby adopted in 2001, the idea of trafficking sends chills up my spine. At the same time, all of this must be kept in perspective. There is no way that we will ever know if our children were truly abandoned or if they were victims of trafficking. It's very important information and yet, it gives me a feeling of helplessness in that there is no way for us to verify if any of our daughters/sons were actually abandoned. There doesn't seem that there is much we can do about it, but it is very disturbing all the same. Keep up the great work Brian, I look forward to your blog entries.

Anonymous said...

"China began foreign adoption in 1996"
This is simply not true. How can
you expect me to believe the
rest of the article, which sounds
more like speculation than the
I am very interested in hearing
hard cold facts. Conjecture and
speculation seem to be the content
of your article.
I respect your efforts to find
truth and to make sense of China
adoption. I wish you could be more
clear, concise, and accurate.

Research-China.Org said...

Well, K, obviously I did not write the article.

That said, although adoptions began in 1991, it took until 1995 for adoptions to reach 1,000 to the U.S. Since most orphanages did not participate in the program back then, it is certainly possible that the writer, living inside China, may have been told the program started in 1996.


Anonymous said...

Was it a benevolent act or a crime? Perhaps both. While I understand that, legally, Yuan Baishun has to cover the bases and may argue that accepting even abducted babies may not be in violation of Chinese law, I personally would find that unspeakably reprehensible. (And I would find it very surprising if it weren't illegal, but I am ignorant of Chinese law. I just know that attorneys have to argue every angle they have at their disposal.) However, if parents thought it safer for their babies to use a broker to ensure the babies arrived safely in an SWI instead of leaving them on a sidewalk somewhere, I cannot blame them or the people who helped them. Yes, abandoning babies is a crime in China, and anyone helping these poor parents would then become accessories to the crime even as they may have been doing it with the best of intentions for the parents and/or the babies involved. I imagine some charged parents to cover the risks they had to take in this matter. Did they make money off the parents? Did they instead make money from the SWIs? Were they covering their expenses or profiting? What were their motives?
I don't like to think anyone pressured parents to give up their babies and I can't fathom abducting babies, but if the abandonment was initiated by the parents, I cannot really fault people who helped and were not personally enriched in any meaningful way in the process.
Let me put it in another context. Escaping slavery was a crime at one point in our history, but I could say helping slaves escape capture was both benevolent AND a crime (although not beneficial to the slaveholders and possibly to the southern economy as a whole).
I'm not clear on how much the individual SWIs knew (apart from the Hunan officials) and how much they could blow the whistle on their superiors even if they knew what was going on. Perhaps they just felt they needed to find as many homes for these children as possible, regardless of how they came to them. Perhaps they thought foreign donations helped the babies at their SWIs as a whole. Perhaps they were kept in the dark and made fall guys. I don't know. The more I read, the more confused I am.
I am glad the Chinese government looked into the matter, and I pray no innocent person got caught up in the scandal. I just doubt the veracity of the judicial system in China and wonder if some higher ups perhaps got away with wrongdoing while some lower level workers took the fall. At least the "show" will perhaps discourage more corruption in the system.

Charlie Cory said...

This is very sad.

It seems some loving people, willing to share their life with a child are unwittingly fueling a trade in children.

Without a market, there would be no trade.

Sad but true.

Adopting an Infant

Anonymous said...

Well...I adopted my daughter from Hunan in August of 2005. I got home to receive a letter in November telling me about this. I have no way to find out the true story of my daughter's relinquishment. All I have is my faith in God that she is with me as she is meant to be. I received a letter in Nov. of 2005 telling me that my agency would support me in this time ...I to this day do not know what is true..