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.