Thursday, January 25, 2007

Beth N. Russell's New York Times Editorial

There is no doubt that we have entered an age where the Western Press is growing increasingly hostile to China and things Chinese. History might show that the Washington Post 2006 article on China's baby-trafficking problems will be the turning point for favorable press coverage of China's international adoption program. As China becomes a stronger economic, political, and military competitor, the coverage will probably grow increasingly critical.

The New York Times apparently seeks to lead the way. A letter to the editor in Tuesday's edition from an adoptive mother of two Chinese children is merely the latest in misinformed people given a stage to promote their ignorant, and often illogical, experiences and ideas. Beth Nonte Russell is like many adoptive families who have been to China once or twice, visited an orphanage or two, and feel that those experiences can be translated into a country-wide paradigm (and a book contract to boot). Her essay is filled with intellectual "leaps". One of the most blatant is in the first paragraphs: Thee are thousands of orphanages in China, "most of them full of girls". Having visited two orphanages, on what does she base this assertion? She bolsters her assessment with some very questionable math, concluding that if 10% (apparently taken from thin air) of China's 10 million apparently missing children end up in the orphanages, then there must be millions of children in the orphanages. Huh??? Long-time readers of this blog will recognize the holes in her analysis.

Russell laments the lack of verifiable information regarding the number of children in China’s orphanages, apparently unaware of or disregarding the statistics issued by the Chinese government in recent years. For example, the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs, in cooperation with Britain’s “Save the Children Foundation” and the Beijing University, has revealed that there are 69,000 orphans living in China’s orphanages. Of those, more than 50% have special needs. Thus, at any given moment, around 35,000 healthy children are available for adoption, both domestically and internationally.

Additionally, a survey conducted by Research-China.Org in early 2005 of the orphanages involved in the international adoption program in China revealed that 93% of the directors indicated that there were no healthy children available for domestic adoption due to the demands of the international adoption program. These directors also indicated that the number of healthy infants being abandoned has been declining in recent years.

Just today, Amy Klatzkin of Families with Children from China (FCC) posted her recent conversation with an official of Hunan Province Civil Affairs. The official confirmed what our survey of directors showed: "that abandonments are way down and that most of the new arrivals at SWIs are now disabled." She then gives some personal observations confirming that assessment. But even Amy can't resist partaking of the "conspiracy bug" that Russell so freely embraces. Amy believes that China's officials "are greatly overstating the impact of domestic adoptions in order to mask the illegal increase in sex-selective abortions." Again, we must ask, is there any evidence to show that this is the case? In my rather frequent excursions into rural China, I see no evidence that ultra-sound technology enjoys widespread use in sex-selective abortions. In fact, my interviews with scores of new parents confirms that it is extremely difficult to determine the sex of an unborn child. Given no evidence other than our suppositions, are we to assume that millions of women annually are able to find out the sex of their unborn children?

Russell is motivated by a problem plaguing many adoptive families. Most of us adopted from China working under the assumption that China had hundreds of thousands of unwanted baby girls needing homes. It was this apparent need that motivated me in 1997 to adopt my oldest daughter. There were no hard statistics to refute that belief, and it became engrained in the Chinese adoption community. But as research begins to show that that situation is no longer valid, many adoptive families resist embracing the information that is now coming from China. Conspiracy theories abound: the Olympics, the paper-work process, etc., all designed to contradict the published statements of the Chinese government and the testimony of hundreds of orphanage directors.

Perhaps some families don't want to believe the "new reality" because the old reality was so legitimizing of the international adoption program, and the individual reasons for adopting by the family themselves. In other words, it is easier to discuss with our children our reasons for adopting them when there is a patent need (full orphanages), but it becomes harder when the evidence for that need is no longer there.

Given the Hague Agreements emphasis that children should remain in their birth countries whenever possible, China’s recent restrictions on international adoption make perfect sense. The reality in China isn’t that these new restrictions will result in more children remaining in orphanages, as Russell asserts, rather that families inside China will adopt more children.

The solution to China’s abandonment problem is not abolishing the one-child policy, a policy that has had remarkable results in decreasing China’s birth rate. Rather, the solution is to change the cultural preference for boys. This has already been largely accomplished among China’s younger generations, but pressure continues to be felt from the older generations, those now grandparents.

Infant abandonment in China is an unfortunate situation that is fortunately decreasing. China’s recent changes in adoption policy go a long way to insuring that the victims of abandonment find loving homes, with preference given to domestic families inside China.


Anonymous said...

Brian, I can say that to some extent I can agree with this article in the fact that the adoptions are going down the closer we get to the 2008 Olympics. I adopted my last daughter in 2004 and people in China were already talking about a slowdown due to the Olympics. However I do believe that China is doing a better job with domestic adoption and the statistics for abandoned babies does appear to be getting lower. Lets just hope and pray everything is on the up and up. I will say that her argument in the article concerning the new rules for adoption are totally insane. I cannot say that I am happy with the new requirements, and if I were to want to adopt again, I probably would not meet the requirements, but I do believe that the CCAA put forth these new requirements with the childrens best interest in mind. If I did not have any children and had been looking into adoption, these rules would probably get me agitated as well, but that would probably be the selfish side of me coming out. One thing I think a few people do not understand is that we really need to do what is in the best interest of the children, at times this will not be easy to deal with. As far as her math is concerned on the number of orphans, I believe we call that fuzzy math.

Anonymous said...

The article view is pretty ture, in China, Situations are turning better. I myself have a 4 years old daughter, and I like her. I don't care if I have a son because daughter is also very good. My wife and I want to adopt a girl when income permitted, but China policy seemingly doesn't allow.

Anonymous said...

Thank You Brian for this post. It is always good to hear what you have to say and to not allow this crazy math to go unchallenged.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Brian. This article really disgusted me when I read it, and I'm glad you are providing a different (and clearer) perspective. Probably not as widely read as the Times, but we can only hope!
Andrea - a-mom

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the respose, Brian. Very valuable. I agree with you up to the end, where I differ on two points.

1. The one-child policy has not done as much to reduce population growth as commonly believed. The great bulk of fertility decline occured in the years before the one-child policy. Total fertility fell from 6 per woman in 1965 to 2.3 in 1980, and since has fallen to about 2 (Source: Lee & Wang, Population & Development Review 1995). That last drop is very important, but still the greatest declines in fertility resulted from increased autonomy and education for women, and better living standards with industrialization and collectivization.

2. Son preference is the cultural basis for the problem of "missing" girls. However, the most feasible way to address the problem may be by increasing social security in old age, and access to health care, so that people don't need to rely on sons (that is, daughters-in-law) in their old age. With more security, it would be OK to have a daughter even in a culture with strong son preference and patrilocal traditions.

Thanks again.

Research-China.Org said...

A common misperception is that the one-child policy was started in 1979. In fact, the basic themes of the one-child policy were implimented in 1973 with the "National Economic Development Plan", which encouraged later marriages and fewer children. This was made law in 1979.

There is no doubt this change in national priorities has had a significant impact on the population growth in China. Although women-empowerment and economic growth also have significant effects on reproduction choices of women, one would be hard-pressed to find those forces at play in the 70s (

China is addressing the financial aspects of son-preference, but it is not nearly as strong as we would assume. Let us remember that the families abandoning their children represent a very small percentage of the total population. This can be considered the fundamentalist fringe. The majority of these families abandon due to family name considerations, not social security. That tradition is dying with the older generation.


Anonymous said...


In watching the program recently "Inside China" the segment "Women of the Country" - the Chinese lady pbs was interviewing, who seemed quite knowledgeable, said that there was corruption in the health services and there were quite a few selected sex abortions of girls still going on in China even though it is against the law.

Research-China.Org said...

Corruption is prevalent in China, of that there is no doubt. I just doubt that in the case of selective-sex abortions, it is a big enough problem to result in millions of informed parents each year.


Anonymous said...

I am curious as to your official reasonings, i.e. numbers and facts, for why you think that sex-selection abortions is not a common corruptive practice. If boy preference is a centuries old practice it seems unbelievable that a few well-placed ads have overcome that to any negligiable degree. In addition, ultra-sound machines are made in China and therefore, can not be that difficult to obtain on the blackmarket.

Research-China.Org said...

Whenever I travel around China, I ask families with young children or women that are pregnant if they knew the sex of their child before it was born. Almost always I get a laugh, and a confession that it is very difficult to get the doctor to tell you. The fines and penalties for doctors who do perform these type of ultrasounds are high, and although corruption does occur, most doctors, I believe, would not risk arrest or fines for most of their patients. Close friends, yes; government officials, most likely; the average patient family, I don't see that happening.


Anonymous said...

When I was in Changsha in Feb 05 adopting our second daughter, we had to take her to the Changsha Childrens' Hospital for care. We ended up having an ultrasound done (which by the way only cost me 51 Yuan). I vividly remember the sign posted outside the ultrasound room stating that in no uncertain terms the sex of a child would not be told. I thought it was also intersting that the sign was in English too. So I would have to say that the majority of parents would not have access to the sex of their baby.

Anonymous said...

I read the articles and found them to be self serving but harmless. More disturbing is her inference that she and all wanting adoptive parents are “entitled to mine” at any cost.

And enough already with the jealously of celebrity adoptions and hand wringing over the new rules. The reality is that there are fewer children available for adoption. In an effort to reduce the demand the CCAA has added rules (not as tough as other countries but who wants to go there) that will reduce the number of waiting families. How about a story on what is getting better regarding IA?

The only conspiracy theory that makes sense is the microchip implants that the Chinese government placed in each IA child. When they turn 18, Beijing will flip a switch that will make them spy’s - just kidding of course.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! Annonymous left a message on 1/29 joking about a chip in the children. Well, I had someone actually approach me with this theory while in process of paper chasing for my daughter. How ridiculous, some people actually beleive this!

Anonymous said...

Although I'm glad from a purely practical standpoint that China has managed to curb their population growth, I can't support the one-child policy. Its enforcement is cruel and deeply inhuman. Here in the US we are so jealous and protective of our own freedoms (which some of us defend to ridiculous lengths), but are quick to shrug when it comes to the most basic of human freedoms in China, violated every day. The ends don't justify the means. And there IS a gender imbalance, which must be due to a combination of factors, including sex-selective abortion, infanticide, abandonment (which can't always result in a quick rescue and a rush to the nearest orphanage. ), and the neglect of girls in favor of the boys of the family. This gender discrimination is driven by a boy-centric culture, but pushed by a government bent on enforcing a one-child policy.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the last post. China had to implement the one child policy due to real issues with population.

I do believe the boy preferance is more the issue. Although I have only been to china once for two weeks, it was evident that the dicrepancy in the lives between the haves and have nots will ultimatly cause serious problems to the country.

If I am a rural farmer with two childen, a boy and a girl, trying to get by on $35 dollar a month and I have to send my kids to school at some cost to me. I will pick the son who will take care of me when I get older - my daugther will marry and move away (Remember 1 billion chinese are living in the rual areas where only 300 million (Roughly the us population) live in urban areas.

If I am a worker in a urban area where schools are more plentify and avilable as well as much less cost as a percentage of my earnings, and I can see the benift - I would most likley send both.

We cannot comapare the reality and expectations of the States to rural China - it is third world were people live to survive - and that is being generous.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for being the voice of reason in what seems to be a sea of misinformed media attention (cue Paula Zahn theme music). My wife and I read everything you write on this blog.

In a previous blog entry you wrote that you think the wait times will gradually speed up (Hunan back online, etc). Do you still believe in a "speed up" based on what has happened since you wrote that entry? It seems to be holding steady at about a half month of paperwork for each referral month.

We're LID 3/21/06, just barely out of review! Small victory, but we'll take it!

Thanks again for what you do, I look forward to the day where I can use your services to find our daugter's ad.

Andrew and Jennifer
Westchester, NY

Research-China.Org said...

Actually, given the changes in restrictions, it is likely the wait-times will increase for the foreseeable future, given that many families are accelerating their dossier preparation.

So, I can offer little comfort in your wait, since you are in the "bubble". But longer-term it will improve.


IndyChick said...

My biggest fear with the new regulations is not that thousands of healthy Chinese girls will not find homes, but that the special needs children, both boys and girls, will be less likely to be adopted.

If the rules require such stringent income, physical, and medical parameters, it can't help but think that these "cream of the crop" parents will be looking to adopt a "cream of the crop" baby. Certainly, the entitlement apparent in the newspaper editorial is more common than I would like to think.

As the mother of two from China, one "healthy" and one "special needs" (but don't tell her because she hasn't noticed yet!) I would not qualify now to adopt even if I wanted to adopt again. I know there are other families who would like to adopt a special needs child who will no longer qualify either. Although CCAA is apparently planning to be a little more lenient with special needs adoptions, I can't help but wonder how many kids will be left behind in a country that sees them as substandard individuals.

I loved the parts of China that I experienced, and I found the people to be generally kind and loving of their children, but even the orphanage directors admit that the majority of children abandoned these days have some type of "deformity." There are families in the US and other countries who would love to call these children their sons and daughters. I just hope that the new selection process doesn't make that impossible.

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see if the number of applicants acually drop as a result of the longer wait times and the new rules.

I cannot belive that a casualy adoptive family ( nothing wrong with that) would knowingly enter into the program with a two wait time.

Perhaps the CCAA is a whole lot smarter than we give them credit.

1. Reduce the demand by new regulations.

2. Take advantage of the natural reduction in willing applicants due to the longer wait times.

3. Allow for the continuation of the IA program with a reduced / limited number of available children due to fewer children being abandoned, increased domestic adoptions and Hauge implementation. say pre-2004 numbers around 5000-6000 children a year

One thing I do not see is "unlimited" SN adoptions - China has to take care of their own to save face in the international community. It is one thing for healthy or slightly SN children to be placed in IA. I do not see IA as the SN solution in China.

Anonymous said...

Brian, I just found your blog by chance and was surprised to find my name in it. You say that there is no evidence of widespread use of ultrasound B in the countryside. Such evidence has been published in academic journals and research publications in recent years. See, e.g., Chu Junhong, "Prenatal Sex Determination and Sex Selective Abortion in Rural China," Population and Development Review 27, no. 2 (June 2001): 259-81. See also Kay Anne Johnson, "Chinese Orphanages Today, 2003," in Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption, and Orphanage Care in China (Yeong & Yeong, 2004). The sudden dropoff in healthy female infant abandonments in Changsha in 2006 mirrors the equally sharp dropoff in Anhui around 2000/2001. Johnson's research in the Anhui countryside found widespread use of ultrasound B. For the past few years I've been returning to Changsha and seeing nothing of the kind until 2006, when everyone I spoke with noted with surprise the sudden decline in healthy foundling. Nothing else accounts for such a sharp dropoff in abandonments.
I don't have a conspiracy theory about why officials don't talk about sex-selective abortion, I have a practical theory: such abortions are illegal and embarrassing and against government policies. In the past the same officials denied the widespread practice of foundling adoptions outside the social welfare system, although those numbers have been huge. They are required in their official capacity to support the current policies, and they do so--much as US officials do, regardless of the truth on the ground in, say, Iraq.
On the basis of what research have you determined that there is no ultrasound used for sex-selective abortion in the countryside? And how do you account for the sharp decline in female infant abandonments in Hunan? You don't propose a plausible alternative explanation. I'd be very interested to hear one.

Amy Klatzkin

Research-China.Org said...


First off, thanks for commenting on the blog. I appreciate your input and experience in this discussion.

I don't say that ultrasound use in the countryside is not used, for obviously ultrasound technology is essential to prenatal care. But I have asked hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand couples in China's countryside if they knew whether their child was going to be a boy or a girl, and I am always given a chuckle and a "this poor foreigner doesn't understand China" answer that it is not possible to get that information. In order for the population "bubble" to be the result of selective abortions, millions of couples would need to seek that information and act on it. I don't think it is that wide-spread.

As far as the decline in abandonments is concerned, I agree that it can partially be impacted by abortions, but I think its primary causes are the improved economic conditions linked with a declining "traditionalism". Again, when I ask couples in China about sex preference in their children, there is very little male bias.

The decline in abandonment rates has been going on for many years, but it is not universal. I am completing research on abandonment rates by city in Guangdong, Guangxi and Hunan Provinces, for example. This research shows that declines vary from city to city, and in some cities rates are increasing. Now, if we could overlay ultrasound access in each of these cities, it might go a long way to supporting your idea.

Again, I truly welcome your input on these topics!!


Anonymous said...

It seems reasonable that there MUST be much sex-selective abortion going on, if abandonment of girl infants is down. The gender imbalance is by all acounts persistent. The other explanation is infanticide, whether direct or as a result of inferior care given to baby girls. One little machine can determine sex on a hundred babies a day (I know, I'm a radiologist. It takes about 1 minute to determine the sex of a second trimester baby. I'm sure there is no trouble in China in getting a late 2nd or even 3rd trimester abortion)
Thanks for these fascinating comments and discussion, Brian.

Ray said...


I wonder if you've read this article, and, if so, do you have an opinion on it:

Research-China.Org said...


I found the article to be a rehash of the same data that Beth used -- and which ignores official and unofficial data readily available. I am confused, for example, by the author's assertion that orphanages "may charge US$3,000-$5,000 as a combined donation to the institution and a fee for having raised and cared for the child." If there is one simple and uncontested fact known to every adoptive family, it is that the fee is $3,000. There are additional fees for paperwork, but nowhere near $2,000. If the author misses that point, one has to question his knowledge of the adoption program.


Anonymous said...

I am new to this post but wonder about all the numbers that keep getting thrown around.

Less than 10,000 children were adopted worldwide from China in its biggest year, which saw a 15+%, drop recently. Where do people come off with this millions of children are "being lost" as a result of the new rules.

By all accounts in your posts, at any give time there are roughly 40,000 documented adoptable children in the system. Assuming documented abandonment’s are proportionate to the IA adoption rate, well over 30,000 children are being officially adopted domestically. This seems to contradict previous conclusions that adoption is not available for domestic families. This coupled with your inferred comments that unofficial adoptions are quadruple the official numbers, shows that domestic adoption is in fact viable in China.

The need for IA continues, but at a lower rate.

Research-China.Org said...

While I largely agree with Lars, one point bears emphasis. We have no idea how great the domestic demand for children is, because the state-run orphanages make it financially and logistically difficult for Chinese families to adopt.


Anonymous said...

I agree that it is difficult for Chinese families to adopt officially, unless they are well to do, from the SWI's that are set up for IA. Even more difficult is the ability to truly qualify the demand that is not been meet "officially" or "unofficially". We can all ways find examples of bad stories / situations.

Are there 7,500-10,000 families in China who are willing to adopt these children every year ? - Most likely

If so, would Beijing provide the 25-30 million dollars in lost monies that the SWI's would loose. Not to mention the direct benefit to the local economies of close to $ 50,000,0000 spent in China by adoptive families (10,000 families spending $5,000.00 in county)- Not likely

In a country wrought with corruption at the local level , particularly in the outlying provinces, would any monies Beijing might provide to be directed get to the SWI's with out a local skimming of funds if the IA was lost. - Not likely.

Perhaps we are looking at the lesser of two evils with IA and monies to the SWI's verse a relatively small number (Again, we are only talking about 8,000 children last year out of a estimated number of 150,000+ official and unofficial adoptions) of families that are discouraged from domestic adoption. The resulting situation for the SWI's who still take care of the elderly and SN children and monies provided has to play in the CCAA directive to some level. IA is not Politically Correct or with out its dark side. Entering in to it, we as AP have to be aware of that.

Gerry said...

Nice post.
It is a pity that in this global era,sex-selective abortions still prevail.At a time,when "equality of sexes" has become a universal motto,the idea of aborting female infants seems to be really vague.However,we can hope that such social evils will die away with time and exposure to the modern world.
As far as adoption is concerned,I feel domestic adoption is a good idea,for,the child needs to feel at home at the end of the day.

Gerry from Chinese New Year Greeting Cards

Anonymous said...

Intresting post! Thanx to blog owner!...

Unknown said...

You might be interested in this map showing several dimensions of the "missing girls" problem:

map of missing girls in China

The map shows that sex ratios among firstborn children are close to normal throughout China. It's second and later births where the girls are going missing. Also, there are quite a few counties in the south where more than 140 boys are born for every 100 girls.

Anonymous said...

"...I see no evidence that ultra-sound technology enjoys widespread use in sex-selective abortions. In fact, my interviews with scores of new parents confirms that it is extremely difficult to determine the sex of an unborn child. Given no evidence other than our suppositions, are we to assume that millions of women annually are able to find out the sex of their unborn children?..."

To answer your question quite simply...yes. I am a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (ie: I do ultrasounds). Trust me when I tell you that it is fairly easy to determine the sex of an eighteen week fetus. Your research into this seems to have been "scores of new parents," all of whom likely went into their 4-5 mo. ultrasound appointment thinking that they were there to learn the sex of their baby. Nothing could be further from the truth. A medical OB sonogram at 16-17 weeks is standardly ordered in the U.S. for many reasons, but determining gender is NOT one of them from the perspective of the healthcare profession. It's a tedious and lengthy procedure, and sometimes, if it goes more quickly and smoothly than expected, a nice tech may take the additional time needed to verify genitalia--but there is certainly no ethical or other obligation to do so. Often, when you get a "50-50," that's not really the case, but the tech is just "done" with you for the day.

Also, having studied under many Radiologists, OBGYNs and other Registered Songraphers who have been to China to volunteer, work, lecture, and observe, I can assure you that many late-term, sex-selective abortions do INDEED take place there!!! Several of my colleagues have actually been approached by obviously pregnant women in Health Care Facilities desperate to learn if their baby is male or female. They are denied this request in the presence of American visitors, but...???

Anonymous said...

Way late in this conversation, but FYI, our local agency (e.g. Adoption Horizons, Eureka California) has charged $5000 orphanage fees since 2001.

"Beth Nonte Russell is like many adoptive families who have been to China once or twice, visited an orphanage or two, and feel that those experiences can be translated into a country-wide paradigm (and a book contract to boot)" I'm not sure I understand; do you include yourself in this characterization, as well?

Research-China.Org said...

Not sure how the agency fee of "Adoption Horizons, Eureka California" applies to this conversation.

No, I don't put myself in that category, since I have been to China 18 times, and visited over 60 orphanages.