Sunday, November 18, 2007

Trees in the Forest V -- Finding Locations, Part 2

In our last essay, we presented data on the three most popular finding locations for children from China: Orphanages, hospitals and government offices. Collectively, nearly 50% of children are found at one of these three locations.

In this essay, we will discuss the remaining twelve locations that comprise the remaining 50% of findings.

#4 -- Roadsides
The fourth finding location we will consider are roadside findings. A significant number of children are left on the sides of roads. These “roadside” children numbered over 1,000, or nearly 10% of the total in 2006. Although one might easily conjure up the worst of images for children found on the side of a road, the opposite is frequently the case, though not always. Often, children are left along the road near a bus stop, for example. Again, one can easily visualize a person placing the child in a box or basket and leaving it on the roadside near a bus stop. After a while people waiting for the next bus discover the child. If more information could be obtained on roadside foundlings, I believe in a majority of cases we would find that there was a logical reason for that location to be picked.

#5 -- Bus/Train Stations
Another frequent finding location are bus and train stations. Up to this point, all of the locations we have discussed are what I would call “local” finding locations. In other words, I believe that children found at the orphanages, hospitals, government offices, and roadsides are left, in a high percentage of the time, by families that live locally.

I receive the same question from a family in nearly every research project I do. "Do you think my daughter was born in city she came from?" It is a popular discussion among adoptive families, and I think there is a lot of misinformation that goes around when it comes to our daughters' actual birth city.

With the exception of a few obviously questionable locations such as bus and railway stations, I think that overwhelmingly our girls were born in the general area where they were found. Usually the locations are such that only a "local" would be aware of them (police stations, hospitals, etc.). But the main reason I believe they are found close to their birth areas is because there really is no reason for a mother to travel very far to abandon her baby.

In the U.S., we grow up believing that the police are able to interview, conduct tests, etc., to solve just about any crime. We take that viewpoint into our impressions of what it means when we read that the orphanage "tried to locate her birth parents for 60 days, but failed." We kind of imagine the police going door to door looking for witnesses, checking hospital birth records, etc. to try and find the parents of a found baby. This never happens.

I researched a girl in one city that was in the hospital for 9 months before being brought to the orphanage. The orphanage told the family she was there because she was so sick when found, but when we met the nurses at the hospital that took care of her, they said that the girl was kept in the hospital in order to give the birth parents another chance to return to get her. The family had been in the hospital for almost a week with the girl before it became obvious that her medical expenses would be more than the family could pay, so they decided to leave her there. It was understood that they knew who the family was. the police never asked anyone who the family was, no records were pulled (the family would have filled out paperwork when they entered the hospital).

Recently, I had the pleasure of discussing abandonment with the Chief of Police in a city in Guangxi Province. I asked him how hard the police search for birth parents when a child is found. He responded that the care and health of the foundling are the most important considerations when she is found. They are often “starving” as he called it, and sometimes sick. Thus, the first priority is to get the children to the orphanage for care. “What would happen,” I asked, “if a child was found in a hospital, IV marks on her head or arm, six days old. Would the police ask the hospital to see the birth records in order to locate the birth family?” “No,” he answered.

The bottom line is that rarely is an attempt made to locate birth parents when a child is found. The police do a short report, call the orphanage, and that is the end of it.

Why don't they try harder? Because everyone in China, from the police to the orphanage personnel to the Civil Affairs officials, all acknowledge that there is a problem with abandoned girls. They are all sympathetic to the reasons girls are being left (more on that later), and they turn a blind eye to it when it happens. Publicly the government tries to show a strong enforcement face to keep obedience to the one-child policy as high as possible, but when a girl is found nothing is done.

Returning to Bus and Train Stations. It is likely that children found in these locations are not abandoned by local families. Rather, they are probably the offspring of migrant workers, or those living in other cities. These children are often found in waiting room, bath rooms, and other areas used by people leaving the city. In the rush to board the train or bus, no one notices a box or basket being left behind. Extremely crowded and chaotic locations make abandonment a low-risk endeavor.

#6 -- Public Parks
Another popular finding location is city parks and squares. One must visit a Chinese Park to appreciate them. Parks in China are not just for kids, but for the entire community. Most are used in the mornings for Tai Che exercises by the elderly, throughout the day for rest and relaxation by the retired and unemployed, who while away the hours playing Majong or Dragon Chess. In the evening the families and young couples appear, performing dances, interacting with their neighbors, and escaping the heat of their homes. Parks serve an extremely important function in Chinese society.

For many of the reasons described above (crowded, easy detection of the child, etc.), parks are also frequent finding locations, accounting for over 3% of the finding locations in 2006.

#7 -- Schools
Another finding location that has characteristics similar to the orphanage is a school. Whether it is a Primary school, middle or High School, 3% of the children placed for international adoption in 2006 were found at the gate of a school. Like orphanages, most schools are guarded. Abandonment rates for schools dropped 40% on weekends in Guangdong, a characteristic that most likely would be seen in other areas, since traffic coming from schools on weekends is lower. It seems likely that schools, another “public” finding location, are chosen due to their perceived love and care for children.

#8 -- Markets
Anyone that has visited a Chinese market knows that this location embodies all of the characteristics we have discussed so far for a “good” abandonment location – they are crowded, noisy, and have hundreds of boxes and baskets laying around. 3% of the children found in 2006 were found in markets. No doubt this “public” location is seen as a very safe location given that many people will witness the finding, and no one will witness the abandonment.

Markets are primarily a local enterprise. Each neighborhood has a produce and meat market within walking distance, and the location is familiar to all. A family member, usually the wife, visits the market several times a week to buy fresh foodstuffs for family meals. Due to their "neighborhood" quality, markets are almost certainly used primarily by local families, in the hope that someone in the area will "adopt" the child and care for her.

#9 -- Private Residences & Villages

All of the locations we have discussed so far have been “public” locations, meaning none of them have an obvious tie to a particular person or family. Our next location is a “private” location – personal residences and village farms. These locations accounted for over 8% of findings in 2006. The difference between a public and private finding location has important ramifications for adoptive families seeking birth parents.

Most of my experiences in locating birth parents have involved children found at the house or farm of a family. These families sometimes have a boy, and the birth family of an unwanted girl assumes the family would like a girl to create the “perfect family” of one boy and a girl. Other families are childless, and the birth family probably assumes the family will take in the girl in order to bring about a pregnancy, a common perception in China. But in almost every case I have researched, the finders knew who the birth family was.

For adoptive families seeking to locate birth parents, a “residence” or village finding location is an almost certain connection.

Abandoning a child in a public location, even if that location is the orphanage, hospital or school, almost certainly represents a consignment of the child to a life in an orphanage in the minds of the birth parents. Few people are aware of international adoption, or even domestic adoption for that matter, in China, so there can be little expectation that a child will end up anywhere else but in the care of the State.

Abandoning a child at a private residence, however, exhibits a desire on the part of the birth family to provide a loving alternative to remaining in the family. Domestic adoption statistics prove that this assumption is valid.

One Province that we have domestic adoption data from is Zhejiang Province in eastern China. In 2006, 215 children adoptions were registered by the orphanage or by the Civil Affairs Bureau, as compared to 113 internationally adopted children.

The children registered by the orphanage are those children that were adopted by a family that went to the orphanage seeking a child, or by a family that found and immediately adopted a young child. In 2006, 55 Chinese families officially adopted a child, and 50% of those children were found at either a private residence or in a village. As a comparison, of the 113 children adopted internationally, only 20 (17%) were found at a residence or village.

The contrast grows starker when you look at the children registered in 2006 with the Civil Affairs Bureaus in Zhejiang. These registrations are for people who find a child and decide to keep it, but don't register the child with the government for several years. Later, in order for the child to attend school, etc., the family applies at the Civil Affairs office to have her registered. Of the 159 children who were adopted by their finders in 2006, only 16 were not found at a residence or village. An extraordinary 90% were found on the doorsteps of their finders.

Thus, if a birth family wants to maximize the chances that their child will be adopted, leaving that child on the doorstep of a local family is an excellent way to do it.

#10 -- Bridges
No finding location strikes me as stranger when I am doing research than our next finding location, bridges. Often have I stood on a bridge in the middle of the countryside, looking for some reason why a family would leave child there. Often one finds a reason: a bus stop, a house, or some other explanation, but often there is no apparent reason. Nevertheless, in 2006 a little over 2½% of children found were found at bridges. There is one common thread that connects most bridges, and that is that they have heavy foot-traffic as farmers, students, and women walk to fields, schools and markets.

#11 -- Stores
Like private residences, stores often exhibit intentional targeting by the birth family. The owner of one pharmacy we visited in Jiangxi Province admitted having a good idea who the birth family was of the child he found at the door of his shop one morning. Some connection no doubt exists for many of the children found at small, “personal” stores.

Some stores -- like bookstores, banks, gas stations, hotels and restaurants – are believed by most people to be frequented by people with financial means. Book stores are perceived as frequented by intelligent and upscale people, while gas stations imply a family wealthy enough to own a private car, no small feat in China. Restaurants are usually frequented by business people, seen as individuals of above average means.

#12 -- Factories and Companies
Over 4% of the children were left at our next location, factories and companies. These locations are likely chosen because the birth parents work or live near the location. In China, large factories and companies support huge communities of families that are employed by the business, and these communities often have their own hospitals, stores, police, and other infrastructure commonly associated with a city or town. The children found at these locations are almost certainly born locally.

#13 -- Old Folk's Homes
Another frequent finding location are the many old folk's homes located in nearly every town and county in China. Like orphanages, old folk's homes are viewed as safe locations to leave children. Orphanages and old folk's homes both fall under the auspices of the “Fu Li Yuan”, or social welfare program. In fact, many orphanages share space with old people's homes, allowing the children to interact with the elderly.

#14 -- Police Stations
No finding location better exhibits the lack of fear involved in abandoning a child than police stations. In speaking with the same Chief of Police in Guangxi that I mentioned earlier, I asked him if children are actually found at police stations, or simply brought to the stations by the finders. He confirmed that in his experience, children are actually found at the stations. No doubt a significant percentage of police station findings, however, are also children found at other locations and brought to the police for reporting.

Summary of the "Forest"
It might be well to recap what we know of the forest so far. Based on an analysis of the finding data for children submitted for international adoption in 2006, the typical internationally adopted child is:

– Female (85%)
– Healthy (90%)
– Found at between 1-7 days of age (64%)
– Found at the orphanage or hospital (40%)
– Born to Married Couples (@85%)

The typical internationally adopted child is female (85%), healthy (90%) and found at less than a week old (64%). If we can extrapolate from the abandonment rate of healthy boys, about 15% of the birth parents are single. This assumes that most, if not all, of healthy boys are abandoned by single woman. The rest are from married parents, usually rural farmers, with another sibling in the family, probably a girl.

But the data varies from Province to Province, and even orphanage to orphanage. Generally, the further north one goes, the closer one reaches parity in gender and health. I believe this is due to the high demand in these areas for healthy children. Most unwanted healthy children in Hebei, Gansu, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and other northern Provinces are trafficked to wanting families rather than being left. This market for healthy children, driven by the parental desires of millions of Chinese couples unable to conceive children, moves large numbers of children from the south to the north of China.

We thus have a good idea what the “forest” looks like in child abandonment in China. The forest, however, is changing from area to area, and year to year. Orphanage directors indicate that the number of healthy children being abandoned is falling, due to factors such as changing attitudes, increased financial resources, and selective abortions. Additionally, increasing numbers of China's estimated 15-18 million childless couples are seeking to adopt children. Thus as the number of found abandoned children falls, the number of families seeking to adopt them is rising. This is already being seen in the international adoption community, where wait-times for families seeking to adopt from China has risen in the last two years from 12 months to over 23 months, with projections going even higher.

The orphanages have sometimes taken steps to increase the number of children entering the international adoption program. The Hunan scandal is a well-known example of this problem, but even today many orphanages continue to offer financial "rewards" to individuals to bring babies to the orphanages. While these "rewards" are seen as a way to keep unwanted children safe, it is peculiar that the orphanages involved in these programs have increasing abandonment rates while other areas are seeing declining numbers. All of these forces bring uniqueness to each orphanage, and the stories of those that are adopted from them.

In the face of these changes, China is quietly modifying its adoption program. Funding under domestic programs such as “Tomorrow Plan” are repairing cleft lips, heart problems, and other fixable special needs in order to make children more easily adoptable. Orphanages are being encouraged to submit all special needs children to the CCAA for adoption. I believe that over the next few years the CCAA will make it easier to adopt special needs children, and more difficult to adopt healthy children. I wouldn't be surprised if the adoption of healthy children ceases before the end of this decade.

Tens of thousands of families in the U.S., Netherlands, Canada, Spain, France, Australia, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark have been touched by Chinese adoption. The information I have gathered from my research with finding ads, orphanage visits, and birth parents interviews has given us, I believe, a good idea of the “forest” that is China's abandonment problem and international adoption program. But ultimately, for me what is most important are three trees in that vast forest – the different stories of the three little girls who are my daughters.


Anonymous said...


One of my daughters was found "near" a police station, the other at the gate of a street. For the daughter found at the gate of a street, where would her finding place fall into your analysis?

Research-China.Org said...

The "gate " of the street is probably the entrance, or start of a street. Either way, it would be classified as a roadside finding.


Anonymous said...

Can you explain how you deduced that 85% of the abandoned babies adopted internationally were born to married couples? I often wonder if either of my daughters was born to a single mother, or perhaps a teen. Do you have any insight on the possible differences between abandonment locations of teen mothers vs. adult mothers? What are the chances they were abandoned by the fathers and not the mothers?

Research-China.Org said...

The 85% is extrapolated from the fact that 6.8% of the children adopted were healthy boys, and I believe healthy boys are abandoned overwhelmingly by single mothers. Thus, it would seem likely that an additional 6.8% of healthy girls would also be abandoned by single women, or 13.6% total. An unknown number of special needs children would also be abandoned by single women, so I estimated the total at around 15%.

The stories of infant abandonment in China has spotlighted several single women, and in every case the abandoned child was not treated carefully. The primary intent of the single woman was the "get rid of the evidence", and so toilets, roadsides (one throwing the baby from a moving bus) and other high-risk locations were chosen. These stories, however, are not good indicators as to how the population in general behaves. The birth mother of one child we researched, for example, had left the child at the house of a family friend.

At the end of the day it is impossible to answer questions as to how many birth parents are single, how many children are left by birth fathers, etc., because the data needed to answer such questions cannot be gathered scientifically. Single women, for example, would be under-represented in most any study due to their nearly complete reluctance to come forward and discuss such an experience. If they are still single, they would want no one to know of their choice to abandon a child, and if married it is almost certain they would not have told their spouse that something like that had happened. For these reasons we should treat stories of birth parents as "case studies" rather than definitive random samples of the overall population.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this series. It has been very informative.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that when you speak of the lower percentage of healthy babies available in the northern part of China, you don't mention that birth defect rates, *particularly* in the north of China, are skyrocketing.

Research-China.Org said...

Indeed, but the amazing part of that story is that so few of the two to three million are ending up in orphanages. I think that is a real testament to the attitudes of the vast majority of Chinese.


Anonymous said...

Our daughter was found in front of a cinema. Where would that fall in your analysis?

Research-China.Org said...

Cinemas, interestingly enough, are not rare finding locations. But in these calculations they were classed in the miscellaneous category.


Anonymous said...

Do you believe that babies are really “found” frequently or just reported to have been found as a way to distance the “finder” as knowing or being part of the birth family? Are babies taken to the police station or are the police called to the location

Anonymous said...

Brian, you say, "I believe that over the next few years the CCAA will make it easier to adopt special needs children, and more difficult to adopt healthy children. I wouldn't be surprised if the adoption of healthy children ceases before the end of this decade."

What do you think will happen to the adoption chances of those of us not expecting a NSN referral before the end of the decade (logged in early 2007)?

JoAnn Stringer said...

This has been a very interesting series and I thank you for all your efforts. But this segment in particular, with the dramatic photos of newly found babies, caused me to suck my breath inward. My children were abandoned 10 and 7 years ago, but this brings it right to the heart.

Research-China.Org said...

I would expect those who have already submitted dossiers to be referred a child that fits their requests. Much like the changes in 2007, I would expect the CCAA to announce the discontinuance ahead of time to allow families time to complete their paperwork.


Research-China.Org said...

My experience is that finders sometimes do report the child as found, when in fact such is not the case. One woman in Jiangxi reported finding a child at her gate, but in fact she picked up the child at a hospital (of course she knew the birth parents). Usually, however, the children are found without a DIRECT connection to the birth parents.


Anonymous said...

I am currently reading Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present By Peter Hessler.

I found his comments / inference on the prejudice between the Chinese people of different provinces, particularly the migrant workers, eye opening.

You mentioned “Few people are aware of international adoption, or even domestic adoption for that matter, in China, so there can be little expectation that a child will end up anywhere else but in the care of the State”.

Do you think a typical Chinese family would knowingly want her child to be adopted into a Western family?

Research-China.Org said...

Absolutely. The Chinese, by and large, feel that the U.S. or most Western countries represent unfathomable opportunity. I think the average Chinese family would be thrilled knowing their child was adopted abroad, since their expectation is the opposite.


Shari said...

in particular. My daughter and one of the other girls in her adoption group were both found at the same gas station in Yangchun. I thought that was strange and that perhaps an error until today. It's nice to have a little more information.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any insight on how a woman who was obviously pregnant is able to somehow explain the fact that there is no new baby in the family? There must be questions from neighbors, co-workers, other family members. If a baby is found locally and people know that a local once pregnant woman never returned home with a baby, wouldn't this be very hard for her to live with? Like your example of the baby being left at the factory - if her mother worked there, wouldn't many people connect the dots?

Research-China.Org said...


I'm sure there are several steps taken to reduce the community knowledge of a pregnancy, but at the end of the day I believe no one pays much attention, and fewer people care. Certainly it would not be difficult to "connect the dots", but my experience is that few do, and those that do don't discuss it with others.


Anonymous said...

I believe bridges offer the advantage that the person abandoning the child can see if anyone is coming. They have a good view and can be sure they will not be detected. They can also be sure that people will walk by and when they do they will see the child. My daughter and another in our batch were found on different round-abouts (rotaries) in the same small city. In a bustling city these were among the few places offering enough privacy so the parent can slip away but busy enough so the child would be found shortly afterwards.

> "Few people are aware of international adoption, or even domestic adoption for that matter, in China"

My wife has relatives in Beijing who believed that it was quite likely our daughter would be SN (even though we had specified NSN). They believed that a large proportion, possibly a majority, of children to be adopted were SN.

I wonder if this thinking is widespread and if it is a result of deliberate misinformation (to discourage domestic adoption) or just an urban myth.

JB said...

Very interesting series, thank you! All 5 of our families with our older daughter's group received the red notes and I always wondered about their authenticity, although the original papers with our referral referenced her finding note and birth date.

One of our daughters was found at the entrance to a street with many residences, in a fairly large city (Anqing). Does that count as a residential or roadside finding?

We had the good fortune to spend a day in the area our second daughter was found along with our travel group (4 families total) and awesome Chinese coordinator. One family was able to meet the woman who found the girl outside her residence, and see where she slept for several nights. The woman had an older son and wanted very much to keep the baby, but her husband and the local officials would not allow it. Another family met a woman who was contacted by a friend of a the birthmother. The friend knew that this woman knew someone who worked at the Civil Affairs Bureau. The other two families were able to determine that the stories the "finders" gave to the police when dropping off the children were false: false names and false finding info: in one case we visited the very small village where the child was supposedly found and spoke to village officials who welcomed our group, gave us tea and explained that no such person lived in the village and no baby had been found there. They even looked at the photo and discussed among themselves who might have been pregnant at the time but came up with nothing. In the other case there was no such doctor at the hospital where the finder claimed to work, and no child had been found there.

Amy said...

How do you explain that you say most people do not know of adoption when they leave their children, yet you also say that adoption in China has grown greatly? Interesting post, thank you.

Research-China.Org said...

The vast majority of Chinese has no understnding of adoption, because so few of them or their families are touched by it. It is only when a couple discovers they can have no biological children that they then investigate, assuming that there are few other families in their situation because it is such a closed subject. Thus, families that abandon children have no great expectation that anyone will one day adopt that child.


Anonymous said...

Brian. I just wanted to comment that this has been a highly informative and interesting series. Thank you for all your hard work. I am quite grateful for all it has added to my understanding of the dynamics in China at this point in time, which so fundamentally affect my family. I realize that once my daughter is older, many things will be different and how important it is to understand the Chinese point of view today, since this frame of reference may not be easy to understand and explain when she is old enough to ask.
Thank you for the education.