Sunday, October 21, 2007

Trees in the Forest II -- Gender and Health

We all are aware of the abandonment stories of our respective children. Each of our children represents, as it were, a single tree in the overall forest of China's abandonment problem. In these essays I will attempt to elevate our view from the individual trees to the broad landscape in order that we might better understand how each of our children fall into the bigger picture. The essay that follows examines the gender ratios of the children abandoned, as well as their health status.

It was the cry that first caught the attention of Yang Ming Zhu as she walked to work. Gazing down, she saw a two-day old infant girl crying in a box. Pinned to her red outfit was a note, stating the child’s birth date. An empty bottle lay by her side, along with 30 yuan. Picking up the child, she walked into the Civil Affairs Bureau and called the police.

The child found that morning by Yang Ming Zhu was to become my oldest daughter Meikina.

Meikina's finding story is as a single tree in the proverbial forest of finding stories occurring every day across China. She is a girl, found in July, two days old and healthy. Is her story common? Is her finding location at the gate of the Civil Affairs Bureau similar or different from her adoption sisters and brothers?

Meikina’s story is played out in similar fashion over ten thousand times a year, and these children end up with adoptive families in such countries as the Netherlands, U.S., Canada, Spain, Belgium, Australia, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, France, and others. In 2006, nearly 12,000 children were submitted to the CCAA for adoption outside China.

This number do not include the tens of thousands of children that are adopted domestically inside China each year, and the possibly hundred thousand or more that are adopted informally by the families who find them, and which are never reported to the orphanage.

Who are these children, and who are their birth families? The answers to these questions vary from Province to Province, and those differences present interesting puzzles. But in this series of essays, I will attempt to illuminate the trees of the forest of over 10,000 children reported to the CCAA in 2006. The result, I hope, will be a glimpse of the larger forest, the cultural context in which our children can be placed.

So, who are the children being abandoned? I will be analyzing demographic information compiled from the 2006 adoption submissions to the CCAA, as detailed in the Provincial finding ads. Finding ads are the first step an orphanage goes through to submit a child for international adoption. I have analyzed the ads from all the Provinces in China that submitted more than 100 children for international adoption in 2006. Eighteen Provinces are in our study:

Anhui, Chongqing, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Zhejiang.

Collectively, these eighteen Provinces submitted over 10,600 children for international adoption, representing over 88% of all the children submitted across China. In 2006, 376 orphanages in these eighteen provinces submitted files for children in the international adoption program.

Of the 10,621 children that were submitted to the CCAA, there were at least 42 known twin sets: 40 of the sets were female twins, one mixed twin set of a boy and a girl, and one boy twin set. There was also one set of triplet girls. In actuality, the number of twins was probably much higher, since some birth parents abandon the twins in different locations around the city thinking it will be more likely they will be adopted. Orphanages always classify these as non-twins.

The Gender of the Children Submitted for International Adoption in 2006

We will begin our study by looking at an obvious demographic characteristic of the children -- their gender. In 2006, 1,648 boys were submitted for adoption, or 15% of the total. The balance, 8,973 (85%) were for female children.

A word of caution with our sampling. We are studying data taken from international adoption submissions, which by definition is ignorant (except in a few cases we will look at) of the domestic adoption rates and percentages. It is possible that domestic adoption accounts for a significant number of boys being adopted, draining them from the international adoption pool. How much is unknown, but we can’t make assumptions as to the percentage of boys verses girls there exists at the abandonment level. Our data only applies to those submitted for international adoption. Evidence does exist, however, that shows that these percentages hold across the board. A glimpse into domestic adoption rates can be seen in two Provinces: Chongqing and Zhejiang. In 2006, these two areas registered almost 300 domestic adoptions, compared with 951 international adoptions. Of the 300 domestic adoptions, forty-three (15%) of them were boys, all but four of whom were healthy. The rest were for girls, all of whom were healthy. These two samples seem to confirm that the ratios remain constant across the domestic and international adoption programs.

The “forest” in this regard is not consistent across China. In fact, large differences in ratios exist from one Province to another. The smallest ratios of boys to girls (in other words, the areas where the most girls are abandoned) are the three largest Provinces for international adoption – Guangdong, Hunan, and Jiangxi.

Guangdong = 8% boys
Hunan = 8% boys
Jiangxi = 4% boys

These three Provinces provide just over half of all the children adopted from China. These three Provinces also have a boy to girl ratio of less than 10%, meaning that for every boy adopted there are at least 10 girls adopted, and in the case of Jiangxi, 25 girls are adopted for every boy.

As we move out from these three core Provinces, an interesting trend emerges. The farther away you go, the more boys are found relative to girls.

Moving out from the high ratio of girls to boys in Guangdong, Hunan and Jiangxi Provinces, the ratio falls to 5-1 in Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei and Anhui Provinces. Moving further out still, this ratio drops further to a 2-1 ratio (2 girls for every boy) in Yunnan, Gansu, Zhejiang and Fujian Provinces. The ratio reaches parity (equal number of boys to girls) in Sichuan, Shaanxi, Henan and Jiangsu Provinces. Finally, in the northern-most area, the ratio inverts, with more boys being submitted than girls in Shanxi, Liaoning and Inner Mongolia.

What forces -- cultural, environmental, financial -- are at play to create this disparity among the southern and northern provinces? The answer is tied to another characteristic of the children when found -- whether they are healthy or special needs.

Health of the Children Submitted for International Adoption

Closely related to the ratio of boys verses girls is how many of these children are “Healthy” verses “Special Needs”. Intuitively, most of us would assume that the ratio of special needs to healthy children would be higher among boys than girls, and this is indeed the case. Of the 1,648 boys submitted to the CCAA for international adoption, 731 (or 44%) had some special need. These special needs range from an extra finger, a cleft lip, a large birthmark or scar, to serious special needs like missing limbs, blindness, heart defects, and mental retardation. This figure of 44% is a very conservative figure, and is likely much higher since many orphanages don’t indicate the health of the child in their finding ads. It is safe to say that the actual rate is 60% or higher.

For the same time period, the 376 orphanages submitted over 8,900 files for girls to the CCAA. Of this number, 619 were for special needs girls, or 7%.

Although the ratio is much lower for girls, the actual number of special needs children of either sex was comparable: 731 boys and 619 girls. When we look at healthy children, the ratio of boys to girls submitted was nearly 10 to 1: 900 healthy boys to over 8,500 healthy girls. Clearly there is a male bias in China among a segment of her population.

Like the data respecting gender, there are demographic anomalies from Province to Province. Again starting with the core Provinces of Guangdong, Jiangxi and Hunan, the ratio of Special Needs to Healthy children increases as one moves out.
What is going on in these outlying Provinces? Not only do they not track with the Southern Provinces as far as the ratio of boys to girls, they also have dissimilar health rates.

The northern Provinces report few healthy children, boys or girls, for primarily one reason: Most of the healthy children are sold or “transferred” to other families. Many readers are familiar with the myriad reports of child-trafficking regularly occurring in China. Most of these stories report incidents of children being taken from the South (Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan) where healthy children are plentiful (and thus of little value) to the north (where adoptable healthy children are scarce).

Infant Trafficking in China

Stories of infant trafficking are common in China, and although the government appears to be treating this issue seriously, there is no evidence that the problem is lessening. Recent examples of trafficking include the following:

One large trafficking gang sold kidnapped and purchased children. Most of the baby boys were kidnapped, but the girls were from mountain villages, willingly sold to traffickers. The girls were purchased for 300-2,000 yuan, and later resold for 8-9,000. The boys were sold for 20,000-30,000 yuan. The children were from Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan, and were sold in Guangdong, Henan, Hebei, Shanxi and Shangdong Provinces.

Another case involved trafficking from Guiyang (Guizhou) to Beijing – five children destined for Henan Province, two girls and three boys. Girls sold for 1,500 yuan to poor families wanting wives for their sons. Another group purchased the children in Yunnan for 250 yuan, to be sold for 1,700 in Henan Province.

Another example is from Mongolia. A small, rural private clinic involved in the delivery of babies would quiz the birth parents if they wanted to keep the child. If they indicated they didn't want the child, the hospital would contact the traffickers, who would come pick up the baby and pay the family 1,000 yuan. The family was required, however, to pay the doctors 800 yuan for making the referral. Seventy-six children were thus trafficked in Huhehaote, one of the main cities in Mongolia involved in international adoptions.

The most brazen example of the intrinsic value of healthy infants in these rural Provinces took place in Yunnan Province. Here a recent article states that 40 children were sold by their birth parents for 5,000 yuan each. The women of Yongkang Village simply stated: “If you want to make money, simply have a baby. Having a baby is faster than feeding a pig.” The 40 children were transported to cities in Fujian, Sichuan, and Chongqing, where they were sold to families for 11,000 yuan. (Yunnan Legal Daily, 7/28/04).

Stories like these are very common in China, and the vast majority of cases never go reported. Many involve children that have been kidnapped, but most involve children willingly given up by their birth parents for free or a small sum of money. The common method of making connections is by contacting doctors or other employees that work in the hospitals. These individuals talk with the birth parents, either while still in the hospital or soon thereafter. Usually, the traffickers have "adoptive" families that are interested in purchasing these children. The families doing the adopting are usually childless, poor, and desperate for a child.

It is paradoxical for us in the West to see a country that on the one hand abandons children by the thousands also having problems with the kidnapping and trafficking of children. It is in every sense of the word a commodity-driven market, with some families having too many children for their needs, while others having too few.

It goes without saying that China's international adoption program plays a role in this market. Western adoptive families were shocked when the Hunan Scandal broke in late 2005, but for anyone aware of the demand for healthy children in China, the question isn't how the Hunan story happened, but why it doesn't happen more often.

The farther one moves from the economically prosperous south to the west and north, fewer healthy children are simply abandoned. Instead, the majority of children are left for family friends to adopt or sold to traffickers. It is the high demand for healthy children in these remote areas that explains both the high SN ratios of the children found, as well as the low ratio of boys verses girls found. Most of the boys and girls found in Provinces such as Shaanxi, Henan, Shanxi, Liaoning, and Inner Mongolia are abandoned because they represent little economic value due to their special needs. Healthy children of either gender, however, are easily transferred to other families, or sold to traffickers, and thus are seldom simply left in a public place to be found.

In our next essay, we will look at the age of the children when found, as well as the impact of the Chinese calendar on abandonment rates.


Jeff and Madeline said...

Thank you Brian for the research you are doing. I know there are people who do not want to look at the ads, the facts, the underlying culture, but if it can provide just one more possibility or insight I think it is important. I have always wondered about the Chinese calendar in relation to abandonments and also festivals and things of that nature. Also, locations that seem "popular" and are they always the true finding location.

Anonymous said...

I have a question, not directly related to your research.

I hear all the time that a note with a birthdate was left with the child. I wonder why that? Why leave a note at all? Why not leave a note saying "Please care for my child"? Why not write "Her parents are healthy"? Why not write about one's wishes for the child? Why do the notes always just seem to be a birth date. Is there something particularly important about the birth date? Or do you think a lot of the birth note with birth dates are made simply made up by the orphanages?


Anonymous said...


Thank you for your great presentation in Ede, Holland. It was good to meet you in person and hear the things you write straight from you. With a chinese daughter we, ofcourse know a lot of china and "its customs" etc. etc, but still we learned a lot of new things from your presentation. It was great to hear you talking with so much enthousiasm and commitment.

We sure will have contact with you again in time. The more because we hope to adopt a second child from china in time. LID feb. 2007 .... 3 years to go???? that was the only thing I rather did not hear during your presentation ;-(

Thanx and till next time,

Petra and Frans Meijer
(probably the only mom in the audiance with a Shangrao-Ling daughter ;-))

Research-China.Org said...

Birthnotes serve one primary function: To communicate tot he child the date, and often the time, of their birth. Knowing one's correct birthdate is very important in China, because it is essential to obtaining one's fortune at important stages on life. For example, as my wife became an adult she sought out a fortune teller to learn what her future held as far a marriage, children, etc. This is something almost every Chinese person does. Whenever a new potential spouse is met, again the fortune teller is consulted. And the first question asked by the fortune teller is when were you born. If the exact time is known, so much the better.

We look at this as a curiosity of course, but to the Chinese it is vitally important, even if they don't fully believe in the veracity of the predictions also. And the belief in fortune tellers is strong among the rural people in China, the most likely source of most of our children.


Anonymous said...

re: birthdates

Brian, do you think that leaving a note with a birthdate is a final act of caring by the birth parents, or do you think they are made up by the directors?

I'd love to see a study of birthnotes- their similarities, differences, etc.


Anonymous said...

The thought of parents selling their own children, or children being kidnapped just makes me sick. I am not naive enough to think this only happens in China, but why would anyone sell their child to a trafficker in the first place? Aren't they at all worried that the child would end up in the wrong hands, so to speak?

Research-China.Org said...

There is some confusion regarding my last illustration concerning the percentages of SN/Healthy Boys/Girls. The percentages in each square relate the number relative to the TOTAL number of children (for example, there were 619 SN girls out of 10,621 submissions, or 5.8% of the total). Thus, the total for all four quadrants is 100%.