Monday, December 15, 2008

China's "Charter 08" -- A Turning Point in History?

Whenever we are in China and are able to have a discussion with "everyday" people, one common thread quickly appears -- the antipathy virtually all citizens in China have for their government. While largely directed at local officials, who most citizens see as corrupt, the temperature of discontent simmers at 211 degrees. One small spark could turn China into a contagion of rebellion.

Last week an important document was issued by important and common people within China. Currently signed by 744 individuals, it is gaining momentum inside China through websites and other informal means.

Quite simply, the "Charter 08" (deriving its name from "Charter 77" issued by intellectuals in Czechoslovakia in 1977) is a call for dramatic reform in China, including the creation of a new Constitution, separation of powers, election of public officials, and the de-politicalization of the military.

It will be interesting to watch how China's State-government responds to this charter. If they ignore it, much like the government of Czechoslovakia did in 1977, they will simply postpone the day of change to some unknown and unpredictable date in the future. But one day one of the 74,000 "mass incidents" China experiences each year will reach critical mass and explode across China.

I hope "Charter 08" gains traction and becomes a turning point in China's history.

Here is the text (in English) of the "Charter 08":

Charter 08 (English Version)

Translated from the Chinese by Perry Link

The following text of Charter 08, signed by hundreds of Chinese intellectuals and translated and introduced by Perry Link, Professor of Chinese Literature at the University of California, Riverside, will be published in the issue of The New York Review dated January 15, which goes on sale on January 2.
—The Editors

I. Foreword

A hundred years have passed since the writing of China’s first constitution. 2008 also marks the sixtieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the thirtieth anniversary of the appearance of Democracy Wall in Beijing, and the tenth of China’s signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre of pro-democracy student protesters. The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.

By departing from these values, the Chinese government’s approach to “modernization” has proven disastrous. It has stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity, and corrupted normal human intercourse. So we ask: Where is China headed in the twenty-first century? Will it continue with “modernization” under authoritarian rule, or will it embrace universal human values, join the mainstream of civilized nations, and build a democratic system? There can be no avoiding these questions.

The shock of the Western impact upon China in the nineteenth century laid bare a decadent authoritarian system and marked the beginning of what is often called “the greatest changes in thousands of years” for China. A “self-strengthening movement” followed, but this aimed simply at appropriating the technology to build gunboats and other Western material objects. China’s humiliating naval defeat at the hands of Japan in 1895 only confirmed the obsolescence of China’s system of government. The first attempts at modern political change came with the ill-fated summer of reforms in 1898, but these were cruelly crushed by ultraconservatives at China’s imperial court. With the revolution of 1911, which inaugurated Asia’s first republic, the authoritarian imperial system that had lasted for centuries was finally supposed to have been laid to rest. But social conflict inside our country and external pressures were to prevent it; China fell into a patchwork of warlord fiefdoms and the new republic became a fleeting dream.

The failure of both “self-strengthening” and political renovation caused many of our forebears to reflect deeply on whether a “cultural illness” was afflicting our country. This mood gave rise, during the May Fourth Movement of the late 1910s, to the championing of “science and democracy.” Yet that effort, too, foundered as warlord chaos persisted and the Japanese invasion [beginning in Manchuria in 1931] brought national crisis.

Victory over Japan in 1945 offered one more chance for China to move toward modern government, but the Communist defeat of the Nationalists in the civil war thrust the nation into the abyss of totalitarianism. The “new China” that emerged in 1949 proclaimed that “the people are sovereign” but in fact set up a system in which “the Party is all-powerful.” The Communist Party of China seized control of all organs of the state and all political, economic, and social resources, and, using these, has produced a long trail of human rights disasters, including, among many others, the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957), the Great Leap Forward (1958–1960), the Cultural Revolution (1966–1969), the June Fourth (Tiananmen Square) Massacre (1989), and the current repression of all unauthorized religions and the suppression of the weiquan rights movement [a movement that aims to defend citizens’ rights promulgated in the Chinese Constitution and to fight for human rights recognized by international conventions that the Chinese government has signed]. During all this, the Chinese people have paid a gargantuan price. Tens of millions have lost their lives, and several generations have seen their freedom, their happiness, and their human dignity cruelly trampled.

During the last two decades of the twentieth century the government policy of “Reform and Opening” gave the Chinese people relief from the pervasive poverty and totalitarianism of the Mao Zedong era and brought substantial increases in the wealth and living standards of many Chinese as well as a partial restoration of economic freedom and economic rights. Civil society began to grow, and popular calls for more rights and more political freedom have grown apace. As the ruling elite itself moved toward private ownership and the market economy, it began to shift from an outright rejection of “rights” to a partial acknowledgment of them.

In 1998 the Chinese government signed two important international human rights conventions; in 2004 it amended its constitution to include the phrase “respect and protect human rights”; and this year, 2008, it has promised to promote a “national human rights action plan.” Unfortunately most of this political progress has extended no further than the paper on which it is written. The political reality, which is plain for anyone to see, is that China has many laws but no rule of law; it has a constitution but no constitutional government. The ruling elite continues to cling to its authoritarian power and fights off any move toward political change.

The stultifying results are endemic official corruption, an undermining of the rule of law, weak human rights, decay in public ethics, crony capitalism, growing inequality between the wealthy and the poor, pillage of the natural environment as well as of the human and historical environments, and the exacerbation of a long list of social conflicts, especially, in recent times, a sharpening animosity between officials and ordinary people.

As these conflicts and crises grow ever more intense, and as the ruling elite continues with impunity to crush and to strip away the rights of citizens to freedom, to property, and to the pursuit of happiness, we see the powerless in our society—the vulnerable groups, the people who have been suppressed and monitored, who have suffered cruelty and even torture, and who have had no adequate avenues for their protests, no courts to hear their pleas—becoming more militant and raising the possibility of a violent conflict of disastrous proportions. The decline of the current system has reached the point where change is no longer optional.

II. Our Fundamental Principles

This is a historic moment for China, and our future hangs in the balance. In reviewing the political modernization process of the past hundred years or more, we reiterate and endorse basic universal values as follows:

Freedom. Freedom is at the core of universal human values. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest, among others, are the forms that freedom takes. Without freedom, China will always remain far from civilized ideals.

Human rights. Human rights are not bestowed by a state. Every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom. The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens. The exercise of state power must be authorized by the people. The succession of political disasters in China’s recent history is a direct consequence of the ruling regime’s disregard for human rights.

Equality. The integrity, dignity, and freedom of every person—regardless of social station, occupation, sex, economic condition, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief—are the same as those of any other. Principles of equality before the law and equality of social, economic, cultural, civil, and political rights must be upheld.

Republicanism. Republicanism, which holds that power should be balanced among different branches of government and competing interests should be served, resembles the traditional Chinese political ideal of “fairness in all under heaven.” It allows different interest groups and social assemblies, and people with a variety of cultures and beliefs, to exercise democratic self-government and to deliberate in order to reach peaceful resolution of public questions on a basis of equal access to government and free and fair competition.

Democracy. The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign and the people select their government. Democracy has these characteristics:

(1) Political power begins with the people and the legitimacy of a regime derives from the people.
(2) Political power is exercised through choices that the people make.
(3) The holders of major official posts in government at all levels are determined through periodic competitive elections.
(4) While honoring the will of the majority, the fundamental dignity, freedom, and human rights of minorities are protected. In short, democracy is a modern means for achieving government truly “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Constitutional rule. Constitutional rule is rule through a legal system and legal regulations to implement principles that are spelled out in a constitution. It means protecting the freedom and the rights of citizens, limiting and defining the scope of legitimate government power, and providing the administrative apparatus necessary to serve these ends.

III. What We Advocate

Authoritarianism is in general decline throughout the world; in China, too, the era of emperors and overlords is on the way out. The time is arriving everywhere for citizens to be masters of states. For China the path that leads out of our current predicament is to divest ourselves of the authoritarian notion of reliance on an “enlightened overlord” or an “honest official” and to turn instead toward a system of liberties, democracy, and the rule of law, and toward fostering the consciousness of modern citizens who see rights as fundamental and participation as a duty. Accordingly, and in a spirit of this duty as responsible and constructive citizens, we offer the following recommendations on national governance, citizens’ rights, and social development:

1. A New Constitution. We should recast our present constitution, rescinding its provisions that contradict the principle that sovereignty resides with the people and turning it into a document that genuinely guarantees human rights, authorizes the exercise of public power, and serves as the legal underpinning of China’s democratization. The constitution must be the highest law in the land, beyond violation by any individual, group, or political party.

2. Separation of powers. We should construct a modern government in which the separation of legislative, judicial, and executive power is guaranteed. We need an Administrative Law that defines the scope of government responsibility and prevents abuse of administrative power. Government should be responsible to taxpayers. Division of power between provincial governments and the central government should adhere to the principle that central powers are only those specifically granted by the constitution and all other powers belong to the local governments.

3. Legislative democracy. Members of legislative bodies at all levels should be chosen by direct election, and legislative democracy should observe just and impartial principles.

4. An Independent Judiciary. The rule of law must be above the interests of any particular political party and judges must be independent. We need to establish a constitutional supreme court and institute procedures for constitutional review. As soon as possible, we should abolish all of the Committees on Political and Legal Affairs that now allow Communist Party officials at every level to decide politically-sensitive cases in advance and out of court. We should strictly forbid the use of public offices for private purposes.

5. Public Control of Public Servants. The military should be made answerable to the national government, not to a political party, and should be made more professional. Military personnel should swear allegiance to the constitution and remain nonpartisan. Political party organizations shall be prohibited in the military. All public officials including police should serve as nonpartisans, and the current practice of favoring one political party in the hiring of public servants must end.

6. Guarantee of Human Rights. There shall be strict guarantees of human rights and respect for human dignity. There should be a Human Rights Committee, responsible to the highest legislative body, that will prevent the government from abusing public power in violation of human rights. A democratic and constitutional China especially must guarantee the personal freedom of citizens. No one shall suffer illegal arrest, detention, arraignment, interrogation, or punishment. The system of “Reeducation through Labor” must be abolished.

7. Election of Public Officials. There shall be a comprehensive system of democratic elections based on “one person, one vote.” The direct election of administrative heads at the levels of county, city, province, and nation should be systematically implemented. The rights to hold periodic free elections and to participate in them as a citizen are inalienable.

8. Rural–Urban Equality. The two-tier household registry system must be abolished. This system favors urban residents and harms rural residents. We should establish instead a system that gives every citizen the same constitutional rights and the same freedom to choose where to live.

9. Freedom to Form Groups. The right of citizens to form groups must be guaranteed. The current system for registering nongovernment groups, which requires a group to be “approved,” should be replaced by a system in which a group simply registers itself. The formation of political parties should be governed by the constitution and the laws, which means that we must abolish the special privilege of one party to monopolize power and must guarantee principles of free and fair competition among political parties.

10. Freedom to Assemble. The constitution provides that peaceful assembly, demonstration, protest, and freedom of expression are fundamental rights of a citizen. The ruling party and the government must not be permitted to subject these to illegal interference or unconstitutional obstruction.

11. Freedom of Expression. We should make freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and academic freedom universal, thereby guaranteeing that citizens can be informed and can exercise their right of political supervision. These freedoms should be upheld by a Press Law that abolishes political restrictions on the press. The provision in the current Criminal Law that refers to “the crime of incitement to subvert state power” must be abolished. We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes.

12. Freedom of Religion. We must guarantee freedom of religion and belief and institute a separation of religion and state. There must be no governmental interference in peaceful religious activities. We should abolish any laws, regulations, or local rules that limit or suppress the religious freedom of citizens. We should abolish the current system that requires religious groups (and their places of worship) to get official approval in advance and substitute for it a system in which registry is optional and, for those who choose to register, automatic.

13. Civic Education. In our schools we should abolish political curriculums and examinations that are designed to indoctrinate students in state ideology and to instill support for the rule of one party. We should replace them with civic education that advances universal values and citizens’ rights, fosters civic consciousness, and promotes civic virtues that serve society.

14. Protection of Private Property. We should establish and protect the right to private property and promote an economic system of free and fair markets. We should do away with government monopolies in commerce and industry and guarantee the freedom to start new enterprises. We should establish a Committee on State-Owned Property, reporting to the national legislature, that will monitor the transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner. We should institute a land reform that promotes private ownership of land, guarantees the right to buy and sell land, and allows the true value of private property to be adequately reflected in the market.

15. Financial and Tax Reform. We should establish a democratically regulated and accountable system of public finance that ensures the protection of taxpayer rights and that operates through legal procedures. We need a system by which public revenues that belong to a certain level of government—central, provincial, county or local—are controlled at that level. We need major tax reform that will abolish any unfair taxes, simplify the tax system, and spread the tax burden fairly. Government officials should not be able to raise taxes, or institute new ones, without public deliberation and the approval of a democratic assembly. We should reform the ownership system in order to encourage competition among a wider variety of market participants.

16. Social Security. We should establish a fair and adequate social security system that covers all citizens and ensures basic access to education, health care, retirement security, and employment.

17. Protection of the Environment. We need to protect the natural environment and to promote development in a way that is sustainable and responsible to our descendents and to the rest of humanity. This means insisting that the state and its officials at all levels not only do what they must do to achieve these goals, but also accept the supervision and participation of non-governmental organizations.

18. A Federated Republic. A democratic China should seek to act as a responsible major power contributing toward peace and development in the Asian Pacific region by approaching others in a spirit of equality and fairness. In Hong Kong and Macao, we should support the freedoms that already exist. With respect to Taiwan, we should declare our commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy and then, negotiating as equals, and ready to compromise, seek a formula for peaceful unification. We should approach disputes in the national-minority areas of China with an open mind, seeking ways to find a workable framework within which all ethnic and religious groups can flourish. We should aim ultimately at a federation of democratic communities of China.

19. Truth in Reconciliation. We should restore the reputations of all people, including their family members, who suffered political stigma in the political campaigns of the past or who have been labeled as criminals because of their thought, speech, or faith. The state should pay reparations to these people. All political prisoners and prisoners of conscience must be released. There should be a Truth Investigation Commission charged with finding the facts about past injustices and atrocities, determining responsibility for them, upholding justice, and, on these bases, seeking social reconciliation.

China, as a major nation of the world, as one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and as a member of the UN Council on Human Rights, should be contributing to peace for humankind and progress toward human rights. Unfortunately, we stand today as the only country among the major nations that remains mired in authoritarian politics. Our political system continues to produce human rights disasters and social crises, thereby not only constricting China’s own development but also limiting the progress of all of human civilization. This must change, truly it must. The democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer.

Accordingly, we dare to put civic spirit into practice by announcing Charter 08. We hope that our fellow citizens who feel a similar sense of crisis, responsibility, and mission, whether they are inside the government or not, and regardless of their social status, will set aside small differences to embrace the broad goals of this citizens’ movement. Together we can work for major changes in Chinese society and for the rapid establishment of a free, democratic, and constitutional country. We can bring to reality the goals and ideals that our people have incessantly been seeking for more than a hundred years, and can bring a brilliant new chapter to Chinese civilization.

—translated from the Chinese by Perry Link

Various perspectives on "Charter 08" can be read here:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What Are the Problems in China?

I receive inquiries on almost a daily basis asking if I feel a particular child being adopted has been trafficked or stolen. One thing that is apparent from these e-mails is that there is a lot of confusion among the adoptive community as to what the issues are with China's adoption program.

China's international adoption program began in 1992 at the behest of foreign aid organizations concerned with the care of orphans in China's orphanages. It was presented as a win-win proposal -- China would receive funding to improve their social welfare system, something they were apparently unwilling or unable to do themselves, and the orphans would find homes with loving families.

The program began with 252 adoptions in 1992 (to the U.S. and Netherlands). The number increased to 679 in 1993 when Canada joined the program, and doubled in 1994 to 1,328. In 1995 the program exploded, with nearly 3,000 children adopted internationally, and adoptions increased each year following until reaching a peak of over 14,500 children in 2005, when children were adopted to the U.S. (7,906), Spain (2,753), Canada (973), the Netherlands (800), Sweden (462), France (458), Norway (299), Denmark (207), the United Kingdom (165), Australia (140), and Belgium (63) (Non-sourced numbers available in "Intercountry Adoption in the New Millennium: UK Experience in a Global Context," Peter Selman, Paper presented at Imperial College, London, March 1, 2008).

The China Myth
China’s international adoption program has historically been attractive to adoptive parents for several reasons, outlined succinctly by Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI), one of the largest China-only adoption agencies in the U.S. CCAI emphasizes the attractiveness of the China program due to its consistency and predictability (no surprise fees, delays, etc.), the overall health of the children referred, and the fact that children in China are largely abandoned, and thus have no birth parent records:

Children placed through China adoption are abandoned children. Because child abandonment is illegal in China, birth parents leave no trace of their identity. During their trip to China, adoptive families receive a certificate of abandonment that proves the biological parents have relinquished their parental rights through abandonment. There is no legal avenue for the birth parents to reclaim custody. (

Families have historically been told that the number of children abandoned each year numbers in the hundreds of thousands. One adoption agency states that “There are over 15 million orphans in China. Most are healthy young girls, abandoned due to China's one child per family law.” ( Another charity states that “upwards of 200,000 children are abandoned each year.” ( Joshua Zhong of CCAI writes that there are 573,000 orphans in China, but “Interestingly, the study showed that fewer than 69,000 orphans are living in Chinese orphanages, compared with 450,000 living with their relatives” (

With propaganda such as those described above, most adoptive families from China have seen little reason to question the reality of their child’s orphanage story, or the integrity of the program itself. The conventional wisdom of the past 15 years has been that without the international adoption program, thousands of children would remain in China’s orphanages, and have no chance of finding or experiencing the love of family.

But is it true?
In 1991, a year before international adoptions formally began in China, New York Times reporter Sheryl Wudunn reported that in Changsha City in Hunan Province "the proportion of baby girls given up for adoption -- most come from rural areas -- has been increasing each year." However, Su Kejun, director of the Civil Affairs Bureau in Changsha, was quick to add that "the number of couples who want kids exceeds the number of kids we have to give."

While I harbor the same long-held traditions as most adoptive families, I do question these assumptions in light of growing evidence. Was there ever a true need for the international adoption of China's healthy young children? Do we truly think that in a country of China's population domestic families could not be found for the seventeen thousand children adopted internationally from 1992-2000? Wudunn's article, as well as a companion article by Time's writer Nicholas D. Kristof, show that prior to the introduction of the international adoption program a healthy domestic adoption program existed. This program was enhanced in 1999 with a major overhaul of China's laws concerning domestic adoption.

China Adoption Law Changes
China began legalizing and codifying laws regulating domestic adoption in 1992: “In April 1992, the Chinese government published the Adoption Law, the first law of its kind in China’s modern history, to legalize and promote domestic adoption.” ( Initial requirements that Chinese adoptive couples be childless and over 35 limited the number of families able to adopt. As Chinese demographer Kay Johnson states, “This was hardly a law aimed at finding adoptive homes for abandoned children within China.” Because of the inadequacies of the 1992 Adoption Law, the regulations were changed in 1999, reducing the parental age requirement to 30 years old, and allowing couples with another child the opportunity to adopt (ibid.). Statistics published in 2001 indicate that domestic adoption increased significantly in 2000 (ibid.).

Orphanages participating in the international adoption program saw demand for healthy children increase substantially after 2000. Increasing domestic demand as a result of the 1999 adoption law changes, coupled with increasing international demand from families being drawn to the China program by positive press and favorable program qualities (outlined by CCAI above), created a situation that put domestic families inside China desiring to adopt in competition with international families seeking to adopt the same children – healthy young infants. International families had a distinct advantage, however -- they donated $3,000 for each adoption, something many Chinese families couldn't afford. Thus, long lines of domestic families formed while healthy children continued to be adopted to foreign families.

Problems Begin to Appear
It wasn't long before directors of orphanages began to realize that adoption represented a lucrative business -- financially and professionally. Much like city managers gain prestige by governing a larger city over a small one, directors sought to increase the size of their programs in order to obtain prestige in their communities, obtain larger and more elaborate facilities, and to obtain higher adoption donations to fund their programs and to increase their personal incomes.

Beginning at least in 2002, but most likely going back years earlier, orphanage directors in Hunan began to create financial incentives for employees to procure children for international adoption. The extent of the program wasn't known until late 2005 when the Chinese press revealed that at least eight orphanages (6 would end up being prosecuted) in Hunan and neighboring Guangdong Province had aggressive baby-buying programs in place. It might be useful in the following discussion to define some terms that will be used in recounting these episodes of malfeasance on the part of various orphanage directors.

The most common activity instituted by orphanage directors is the creation of "incentive" programs in the areas around their facilities. The development of this type of program involves contacting area hospitals and informing doctors and other medical personnel that the orphanage is willing to offer rewards to anyone referring a birth family to the orphanage. Doctors then communicate this information to birth parents that have children in the area hospitals, or who come in for pre-natal exams. Families are made aware that they can receive substantial sums of money (usually around 2,000 yuan) if they relinquish their newborn child to the doctor or the orphanage directly.

Additionally, orphanage employees, including foster families, are offered incentives to be on the lookout in their villages for pregnant women. Rewards are again paid for referrals.

In addition to the initial story of incentive programs revealed in the Hengdong, Hengnan, Hengshan, Hengyang County and Qidong orphanages, recent Media expose's have shown the incentive programs are in place in Changde and Fuzhou orphanages. My own experience leads me to believe that over 50% of the children adopted from China come from orphanages that offer incentives to birth families or finders.

"Incentive" programs do not directly involve kidnapping of children, or forced relinquishment of children by birth families. Rather, they involve the free-will abandonment of children in return for a financial reward. While the Hague Agreement allows the payment of a "reasonable" fee to finders, it strictly prohibits the payment of any money to birth families.

The following conversation (recorded in April 2008) explains the reasons why many orphanages get involved with incentive programs. This interview with an orphanage worker in Jiangxi's Fuzhou orphanage, illustrates how the incentive programs operate.

This is a classic example of an incentive program being needed to bolster adoption rates falling as a result of the success of a Family Planning program. The more successful the Family Planning office is at reducing unwanted children in their area, the fewer babies are found, so the orphanage feels it necessary to increase the money offered to draw children in. Clearly without the financial incentive Fuzhou would have few babies rather than being the largest adopting orphanage in China.

The problem, as this video also clearly articulates, is that there is no checks on who sells the child to the orphanage. Anyone -- a finder, a kidnapper, or a birth parent -- can turn in a child for the reward. It is a "don't ask, don't tell" arrangement, opening the door to substantial abuse. One recent example of this occurred in Dianjiang orphanage in Chongqing. There a small child was kidnapped off the street and brought to the Dianjiang orphanage. She was submitted for international adoption. When her birth parents inquired if their daughter was in the orphanage, they were denied access to see. Finally, after many attempts to see if their daughter was in the orphanage, the birth mother finagled her way in and found their daughter. Such are the problems of offering money in China -- everyone responds.

The biggest issues, in my opinion, have to do with these incentive programs. By offering such a large sum in the poorest areas of China, orphanages open the door to people kidnapping children for the "ransom". Orphanages open the door to women producing children simply to sell, creating "baby farms." I must be clear that I don't believe that orphanages create these problems in China -- these problems are much larger than the orphanages. But in promoting incentive programs to bolster adoptions, orphanages become participants in the baby trafficking problems in China. They become a piece of the overall puzzle.

Evidence also suggests that orphanage directors frequently launder the children brought into their orphanages. The Qichun orphanage, according to one adoptive father from that orphanage, reported that the director “admitted to us that this orphanage deliberately changed the date of birth, so that no family could later come back (though none ever did so) to claim a child that they claimed was born on a particular date: no such child would ever be recorded in the orphanage registry” (correspondence in files). On a recent research trip to the Fuzhou orphanage (Jiangxi), a majority of the “finders” listed in the adoption paperwork of the children denied ever finding a child. In the Fuling District (Chongqing) orphanage, children brought from neighboring Youyang County are listed as “found” at the gate of the Fuling orphanage, the finding location for virtually every one of the children adopted from Fuling since May 2006. Thus, it is clear that orphanages systematically launder the children to prevent birth families from locating lost children and adoptive families from interviewing finders and obtaining pre-adoption histories. Of course all of the laundering activities are designed to keep illegal trafficking hidden and to prevent birth families from retrieving confiscated or lost children.

In conclusion, let me be clear -- I do not believe that most children adopted from China are kidnapped from their birth parents, although press reports show that some are. I believe that a majority of children, however, originate from orphanages that offer incentives -- "baby-buying" programs. I do not believe that the orphanages are a primary cause for infant trafficking in China, but willing participants in this larger issue.

Detecting Trafficking
How might an adoptive family find out if their child's orphanage is involved in trafficking of children? There are several tell-tale indicators to watch for, including:

1) Higher adoption rates than the other orphanages in the area -- If your child's orphanage has increasing adoption rates while orphanages nearby have declining rates, that should be cause for concern.
2) Common finding locations -- Fuzhou had many kids found within sight of hospitals, for example. Other orphanages with baby-buying programs list all of their children as being found at "the gate of the orphanage." An unusual finding location pattern is strong evidence for an incentive program, since finding locations should be fairly random.
3) Frequent finders -- Xiushan in Chongqing, for example, has a handful of people finding most of the kids, while Fuzhou's finders were almost all employees of residence committee offices.
4) A reluctance by the director to answer questions -- If a director seems to obfuscate during questioning at the time of adoption, it may be that they are hiding information about their program.
5) Most kids healthy and young -- Orphanages that have a very low special needs rates are suspect, since a growing majority of true foundlings possess special needs. Thus, if an orphanage adopts a high percentage of healthy children, they probably have incentive program in place.
6) Larger than average number of male adoptions -- Much like a skewed Healthy-SN ratio is a tell-tale sign, so is a large number of male adoptions. Healthy male children are greatly prized in China, and a woman that gives birth to an unwanted male child has many options available to her -- family friends, village "mediators", and traffickers. Thus, simply abandoning a healthy boy is fairly rare. Therefore, if an orphanage begins adopting significant numbers of healthy boys, it could mean they are offering incentives to birth parents.

Of course, discovering these indicators involves sharing information among other families in your orphanage group. Unfortunately, there is a long tradition of adoption agencies and others instilling in adoptive families a feeling of secrecy -- "Your child's story is private, and should not be shared." This mentality accomplishes one thing -- it disallows families from discovering evidence of trafficking, and thus keeps them ignorant of their child's true history.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"China eases restrictions on illegally adopted children" -- Really?

Guan Xiaofeng at the China Daily reported today that the CCAA has announced changes in the domestic adoption program in China, easing the burden of registering informal adoptions.

Guan's article states:

A new policy guideline eases the law on most illegally adopted children in China.

The legal rights of these children are currently not guaranteed such as permanent residence of a city, schooling and inheritance.

The guideline was jointly issued by five ministries on Sept 5, but made public on Monday.

It allows people to register their illegally adopted children without fear of punishment.

Ji Gang, director of the China Center of Adoption Affairs, said the number of illegal adoptions has been increasing rapidly in recent years.

"In less developed areas, the number of unregistered adoptions can be two or three times more than registered ones," he said.

"In big cities where people have a better knowledge of the law, the number of unregistered adoptions is fewer."

Shanghai, for example, between 1992 and 2000, had more than 7,000 registered adoptions and about 4,000 unregistered ones.

Ji said China has more than 20,000 registered adoptions every year.

To adopt a child legally in China, a person must be more than 30 years old, healthy, childless and with a good and steady income.

Those seeking registration under the new guideline will be exempt from these requirements except in the case where a single male parent is not more than 40 years older than the girl he has adopted.

If this is not the case, the man will be persuaded to surrender the child to a children's welfare institute.

The guideline also requires anyone who finds abandoned babies to hand them over to police in the first instance.

If the police fail to find their biological parents, the children will be handed over to local children's welfare institutions.

If people who find such babies meet the necessary requirements and want to adopt them, they will be given first priority.

"It means you can not take an abandoned baby home and then apply for adoption. They must be handed over to the authorities first," Ji said.

He said the guideline will help in the fight against trafficking of infants and children.

Many Western readers might interpret this announcement to be a significant change in policy, but many questions remain. Why, for example, is no Chinese version of this announcement to be found with Baidu (China's version of Google). Given the complete lack of broadcasting inside China of this policy change, it is difficult to see how this will be made known to China's citizens.

In order to understand what this announcement is trying to accomplish, we must first understand what happens in China when an unregistered child is taken in by a family. We will look at two situations: Registration of an over-quota child born to the parents, and registration of a foundling, not related to the parents biologically.

Registration of an Over-quota Child
Family Planning regulations require that all pregnancies be registered before delivery. When a pregnancy is registered, an ID card is issued for the unborn child allowing the family access to prenatal care, etc. This ID card will also be required later for public school registration, etc. Hospitals are required to inspect this ID card when approached for prenatal care, delivery, etc., but this is seldom enforced. Important to note is that if a family registers a pregnancy before delivery, the ID card is free.

There are many reasons for a family to not register a pregnancy, many of which revolve around over-quota children. Once a child is born, obtaining a registration card becomes more expensive and burdensome.

To obtain a post-delivery ID card for a child, the family must do the following:

Go to the local Civil Affairs Bureau and fill out registration paperwork. In addition, an over-quota fine will be assessed. Officially, this fine is 30% of a family's annual income, but in reality the fine varies wildly from one area to another, and from one family to another. My own personal experience shows the fine can be as high as 100,000 yuan or more in Guangdong (Nanhai), or as low as a 400 yuan dinner for the Civil Affairs official in Jiangxi. The fine is, for all intents and purposes, arbitrarily set by the local official, factoring in income, influence, etc.

Once approval for the registration is given, the family takes the Civil Affairs receipt and approval to their local police station, who assists in obtaining the child’s ID card.

Possible downsides to this process is that over-quota fees are usually larger than if registration is done as an adoption (see below). Additionally, a major downside to registering a child as an over-quota birth is that Family Planning may require sterilization surgery to prevent future over-quota children.

Registration of a Foundling Child
The process to register a "foundling" is similar to that described above, with important differences. The family appears at the Civil Affairs office seeking an adoption license. A fee will be imposed, but it is generally lower than the fine for an over-quota child. In this case, however, the Civil Affairs will determine if the family is qualified to adopt the foundling (30 years old, healthy, income, etc.) This might present significant barriers to many families, if they are low income, young, etc. The local orphanage is not involved in these registrations.

Thus, a Chinese family must weigh both options when faced with registering a child. If the child is a foundling, they can either present the child as their own or state that the child was found by them. Either option presents its own set of advantages and disadvantages. To register the child as an over-quota child may result in sterilization surgery and a high fine. If the child is a foundling, a visit to a local hospital might be required to obtain a birth certificate (often obtained by paying a small "gratuity"). Given the variable nature of the fines involved, Chinese families factor many different variables into their decision to register a child.

Today's announcement (I have seen it only in English) does not address the financial component of the problem. Unless the fees and fines for these unregistered children is greatly reduced, I fail to see why Chinese families will register their unregistered children en masse. For the average Chinese, nothing has really changed with the issuing of this directive.

Additionally, this directive does not take into account the intrinsic value of a foundling. Although admitting that the "number of illegal adoptions has been increasing rapidly in recent years," the CCAA fails to admit that the reason these adoptions have increased is due to increased trafficking and the burden of registering described above. "Requiring" finders to report a child to the police might look good to observers outside China, but the reality is that a foundling represents a significant reward for the finder -- either from an orphanage, trafficker, or a childless family. Nothing in today's announcement will alter that market reality.

I applaud the CCAA for seeking to resolve this problem, but more must be done. Some steps I would suggest include the following:

1) Broadcast the specifics of the policy, in great detail, so that it becomes widely known inside China.
2) Establish oversight to insure that a family that registers a foundling truly is given preference in the adoption of that child. This means reducing or removing the high adoption fees imposed local Civil Affairs officials and most orphanages. The registering family must be protected so that their child stays with them under virtually all circumstances.
3) Clearly communicate that Chinese families will be heard by the central government (CCAA) if violations to this directive are experienced. The CCAA must increase the confidence of China's citizens in this directive, otherwise long-seated suspicions will prevent most families from complying.
4) In addition to the requirement that citizens report foundlings to the local police, orphanages themselves must be required to report all foundlings brought to their doors. Currently, many orphanages file no police report when a child is brought to their facility, a situation the CCAA has turned a blind eye to. This allows orphanages to be susceptible to people bringing trafficked children to them, in addition to the risk of orphanage directors buying children directly from families and traffickers. Therefore, a requirement that all children be processed by the police will reduce (but not eliminate) these issues.

The current problem is fundamentally a result of a general fear and suspicion on the part of China's families toward the local Family Planning and Civil Affairs officials. This is a result of many experiences of arbitrary enforcement and capricious treatment of families in the past. In order for this directive to have an impact in solving problems, more must be done to assure families that they will be dealt with forthrightly and judiciously.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dutch Report on Trafficking in China

Yesterday, the Dutch Ministry of Justice issued their report on their sixth month investigation into baby trafficking in China. The investigation was initiated following the broadcast of Netwerk's "Adoption in China" in which allegations of corruption were leveled against China's international adoption program.

Predictably, the Dutch report is largely exculpatory of the Chinese, but several important points must be emphasized. These points will be discussed in the order they appear in the Dutch report, the full report of which was generously translated by Roelie Post.

1) The Dutch conducted their investigation by holding discussions with "the China Centre of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) that falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Also discussions were held with representatives of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, the Embassies of France and Spain in Beijing, Save the Children UK in China and some individuals working on the field of adoptions in China."

It is not clear what possible good might come from having discussions with the Spanish and French embassies in Beijing, but it is clear that asking the CCAA or Population and Family Planning Commission would bring little verifiable truth to the table. It is akin to asking the fox about conditions in the hen house. What is clear is that no investigations were conducted, no interviews of farmers in China's countrysides, no discussions with orphanage foster families or nannies to discover if what the CCAA is saying was actually true. No, the Dutch simply asked the CCAA if anything was amiss in their program. The answers, of course, were predictable.

2) With the Hunan scandal in mind, the Dutch discussed the possibility that other orphanages were still purchasing children. "Many homes are in poor regions, where according to our standards small payments can be of big meaning. In aforementioned American study it is noted that children's homes have great interest in the donations of foreign adoptive parents. It could lead them to tempt Chinese parents to place their children in their home, in stead of foster care placement or to promote national adoption or – even worse – instead of raising the child themselves. Also, children could become more often the victims of kidnappers who take children for profit from their parents to offer them to children's homes. It is of importance that the Chinese authorities are aware of this and where necessary react strongly against such practices. The scandal in the province Hunan where the programme of EO-Netwerk dealt with extensively, shows that the authorities do so."

These statements are in fact highly ironic, given the measures the CCAA went to hide the problems in Hunan, and to minimize the extent of that problem. Given ABC News's report, for example, of Fuzhou's aggressive baby-buying program, one might expect the CCAA to have "react[ed] strongly against such practices." In fact, nothing has been done in Fuzhou to end their program, and no notice has been sent to orphanages condemning such programs. I can provide the names and phone numbers of over 300 orphanage directors so that they can call and ask if ANY directive has been issued by the CCAA since Hunan prohibiting the payment of money for children.

In this regard the Dutch have been misled by the CCAA.

3) Faced with incontrovertible evidence provided by myself and others, the CCAA admitted to the Dutch that monies are frequently paid for children: "CCAA acknowledges that in practice the giving of a certain amount to the finder of a child as reward for the fact that he or she brought the child to the Children's Home, does happen. It concerns, according to the Chinese authorities, mainly symbolic amounts."

Adoption reform advocates can at least applaud the CCAA for opening the door that allows us to see how the system might work in China. Again, however, the problem is minimized. While it is true that many orphanages might only offer "symbolic amounts", it is nevertheless true that many orphanages have systematically offered large amounts of money. Orphanages in Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangdong, Yunnan, Guangxi, Chongqing, Hubei and other Provinces can be shown to pay between two and three thousand yuan, over a year's income in many areas. This can't be seen as "mainly symbolic amounts." It would have benefited the Dutch in their investigation if they had simply visited some rural areas in China and inquired of local farmers instead or relying on the testimony of the CCAA. If the Dutch need help in investigating the extent of China's incentive programs, I can provide a list of over 30 orphanages, which collectively account for nearly half of the international adoptions from China. Evidence suggests all have baby-buying programs in place.

4) The Dutch then inquired about Netwerk's allegations that unregistered children had been systematically confiscated by Family Planning officials and adopted internationally. The CCAA unequivocally denied that this had happened. Rather, according to the CCAA, "the families concerned have, according to the law and after agreement with the families involved, transferred the guardianship of the by them illegally adopted foundlings voluntarily to the state." One must ask why, if this was all done voluntarily, the families involved filed a petition to sue the Family Planning. One must wonder why, if this were done voluntarily, the children were taken from their families at 3:00 in the morning. One must wonder why, if this was done voluntarily, Yang Li Bing was told he could have his daughter back if he paid a large sum of money. One must wonder why, if this were done voluntarily, the CCAA would lie and say the confiscated child of Yang Li Bing is still in the orphanage, when in fact she was adopted to an American couple.

That the Dutch Justice Department took the words of the CCAA at face value in light of first-hand testimony and adoption records is amazing.

5) The Dutch conclude that "The Netherlands can let themselves be informed by the Chinese authorities and if irregularities appear they can ask for clarification and if necessary insist on measures to be taken."

We have seen how such "inquiries" are made. As with Hunan, the Dutch will discover through the media a story of orphanage corruption. Rather than launching a transparent investigation (perhaps looking at a sample of police reports, interviewing finders, talking with rural families, etc.) they will simply ask the fox is things are alright in the hen house. The fox will smile and insist that the cackling was just another hen joyfully singing in the new day.

The Dutch will then go home, confident that the hen is safe and not being eaten for dinner by the fox.


What followings if the complete report submitted by the Dutch Ministry of Justice to the Dutch Government.

Ministry of Justice
The Hague

10 September 2008

Subject: Intercountry adoptions from China

The Chairman of the Second Chamber

On 14 March 2008 I have informed you, with reference to a broadcasting of EO-Netwerk, about intercountry adoption from China. In this broadcasting worrying images were shown of the way in which the People's Republic of China would deal with intercountry adoption. In aforementioned letter I have warned for the drawing of far-reaching conclusions in anticipation of a reaction of the Chinese authorities. During the broadcasting such a reaction lacked. I announced to discuss the concerns with the authorities and for this to send a delegation to China.

A delegation of my ministry has visited beginning of May 2008 the China Centre of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) that falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Also discussions were held with representatives of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, the Embassies of France and Spain in Beijing, Save the Children UK in China and some individuals working on the field of adoptions in China.

Also a children's home was visited. As a follow up to the discussions a number of additional questions was made up, on which the Dutch embassy had a follow-up meeting with the CCAA on 12 August 2008.

Goal of the discussions was to obtain clarity about the question if in practice the situations as shown by EO-Netwerk's broadcasting are structurally happening, and if intercountry adoptions from China are implemented in accordance with the Hague Convention on Adoption. The discussions were also used to reinforce the ties between the authorities and to discuss together the further improvement of the cooperation in intercountry adoptions. During these discussions a lot of background was obtained which makes it better possible to judge the developments in China.

Anticipating the visit a meeting was organised with some experts and with the adoption agencies who work in China. Also the reporting of EO-Netwerk was put to the Permanent Office of the Hague Conference for Private International Law and contacts were made with the Central authorities of from China receiving countries with the question if they were aware of facts and circumstances that could be of importance for the working visit.

Finally, a study of two American students about the practice of intercountry adoption in China and the US was used. This study points to a number of vulnerabilities in the system and gives recommendations that could also be of importance for The Netherlands.

It concerned a joint initiative of the Dutch and the Flemish authorities and took place between 5 and 9 May 2008. The Central Authority of Flanders, where the EO-Netwerk broadcast was also aired, participated to all meetings. The discussions with CCAA were done separately, which gave the Flemish Central authority the opportunity to raise additional questions during the second discussion, making use of the discussions held in the mean time with other organisations. The visits were actively supported by the mutual embassies. At the discussions with the Chinese authorities has been participated by the accredited minister from the Netherlands in China and by the consul of Belgium.

The discussions took place in an open ambiance. CCAA appeared to have studied the broadcasting of EO-Netwerk intensively and had reacted as well as in writing before the visit, also during the visit. During the visit also the aforementioned American study was brought to the attention of the CCAA.


The Hague Adoption Convention has the following principles:
1. The mother who relinquishes the child for adoption must have done so voluntarily and after the birth of the child (according to an established procedure);
2. None of the concerned may have had the intention to make a profit; the payment of costs made is allowed;
3. First a solution needs to be found in the surroundings of the child, respectively i hte country of origin, before intercountry adoption can get into the picture (the principle of subsidiarity)

These principle must guarantee that international adoption takes place in an integer manner in which the interest of the child constitutes the first consideration. The findings of the Delegation are explained according to these principles.

Ad. 1: the manner of relinquishment

It is in the interest of children that they, if possible are raised by their own parents. If parents nevertheless relinquish their child it must be clear that they do so voluntarily. There may not have been any improper pressure on them.
The children who are made available for adoption are according to the Chinese authorities almost all children relinquished by their parents by leaving the child as foundling. This is being said to be the result of the 'one-child-policy'. The Government has, with as objective to control the population growth, an active form of 'Family Planning'. Parents in cities are in principle only allowed to bring one child into the world on punishment of often severe sanctions. In the countryside there is a more lenient rule. A second child is allowed if the first child is a girl. Especially girls and children with a deficiency are placed as foundling. Tradition and the fact that boys support their parents work in the disadvantage of girls. The last years the rules concerning the one-child-policy have been somewhat eased.

Children with a deficiency (so-called special needs children) are furthermore placed as foundling as parents cannot carry the costs of care. As far as adequate medical treatment is offered, the costs are not or not fully covered by the government or an insurance system.

The relinquishment is mostly the result of need. According to the Chinese authorities there is, however, no pressure to relinquish children, also not in the framework of the one-child-policy.

The relinquishment of children is punishable by law. The authorities do not take children away from parents in view of the one-child-policy, this was ensured to the Delegation [Dutch sic.] This has also been confirmed by other speaking partners.

In order to exclude that parents did not voluntarily relinquish and are possibly still looking for their children there is always an investigation into the place of origin of the child and data considering the finder and the circumstances in which the child was found are registered. Also an advert is placed during in a provincial newspaper during which parents have 60 days to react. In practice parents to not react to that.

Ad. 2. No intention of profit

The making of profit is generally considered unethical. In Western countries, and by now also in China itself, there is a large demand for adoptable children while the offer worldwide, also in China, is declining. There is therefore a risk that despite the prohibition money or other favours are offered to get children for adoption. The Hague Adoption Convention explicitly prohibits the making of profit by anyone involved in adoptions. Reimburse costs and donations to children's homes are allowed. Donations are usually for the benefit of children in the children's homes that do not qualify for intercountry adoption.

In China the payment for children is in principle prohibited. The government has set up rules for the hight of donations and the use of these. The provincial authorities are monitoring this use.

Ad. 3 Preference for care in own environment

The Hague Adoption Treaty stipulates that a child is in principle better of with care in the own environment, than abroad. Before a foreign adoption is considered, therefore first a solution needs to be sought in the country itself.
During recent years the number of international adoptions from China increased substantially. The amount was mostly dedicated to the one-child-policy. Nevertheless the impression arose that the Chinese authorities gave insufficient priority to the promotion of national adoptions. In the recent period the number of national adoptions has however strongly increased. The rules to adopt a child have become more flexible and in China more people can afford to adopt a child. Also policy is and will be developed to allow children more and more to be placed in Chinese foster families. The number of children that is offered for intercountry adoption has because of that strongly decreased. Only the number of 'special needs' foundlings that become available for intercountry adoption is still high. The Chinese authorities started some years ago with a major project, the 'Tomorrow Plan'. The goal of this project is to collect money for correctional surgery for 30.000 children in the whole of China. CCAA now gives priority to the intercountry placement of these children with adoptive families. The impression exists that with this the offering of healthy children is consciously hampered. The expectation is that in the coming years the offer of healthy children from China will further decrease. With increasing prosperity this will possibly also count for 'special needs' children. For the moment for this group of children there is however still a large need for intercountry adoption.


The legislation and the policy of the Central Authority in China is, as far as could be established during the meetings, in accordance with the Hague Adoption Treaty.
The 'one-child-policy' puts a heavy price on the Chinese population, but enforcement to relinquish a child is according to the Central authority not the case. The payment for children is in principle prohibited. There is more and more space for national adoption and placement in foster care in China. That is a positive development. Further improvement seems possible by better aligning the systems of national and intercountry adoptions. Still also then the system shows to be vulnerable.

Many homes are in poor regions, where according to our standards small payments can be of big meaning. In aforementioned American study it is noted that children's homes have great interest in the donations of foreign adoptive parents. It could lead them to tempt Chinese parents to place their children in their home, in stead of foster care placement or to promote national adoption or – even worse – instead of raising the child themselves. Also, children could become more often the victims of kidnappers who take children for profit from their parents to offer them to children's homes. It is of importance that the Chinese authorities are aware of this and where necessary react strongly against such practices. The scandal in the province Hunan where the programme of EO-Netwerk dealt with extensively, shows that the authorities do so. Still, on a regular basis possible new irregularities show up. Also a delegation of the Association Wereldkinderen who beginning of July visited China, pointed this out to me. So it is important that CCAA remains alert on possible irregularities and acts convincingly when rules are overstepped. CCAA has shown during the meetings in May to be aware of this importance. CCAA acknowledges that in practice the giving of a certain amount to the finder of a child as reward for the fact that he or she brought the child to the Children's Home, does happen. It concerns, according to the Chinese authorities, mainly symbolic amounts. Also it happens, like in other countries, that the finder is reimbursed for travel, care or medical costs. About the admissibility of such payments there are in China different interpretations. CCAA is of the opinion that in no case many may be paid to finders. For this reason CCAA has started recently a campaign to create awareness that anyone who brings in a foundling will need to involve the local police, instead of bringing the child to a children's home.

CCAA indicated in this meeting also that it could agree to many of the recommendations of the American study. According to CCAA on many points actions have already been taken, for example on the issue of the improvement of control mechanisms, the promotion of national adoption and the substantial increase of government financing of children's homes.

CCAA also showed awareness to the importance to document as good as possible the origin of children. The files that were shown gave a professional impression. Also the Chinese side showed to be prepared to accompany children in their request to see their adoption file when in the interest of their personal development.

In the framework of increased transparency the possibility was also raised to promote the legal relinquishment of children. In this case the data on the parents are known and it can be established with great certainty that the relinquishment was done in total freedom. CCAA was not unwilling to this idea, announced that discussions on this are going on in China also and that they are looking at the situation in other countries. CCAA, however, indicated that China for the moment is not ready to legalise relinquishment.

Reaction to the EO-Netwerk programme

With letter of 7 April 2008 the CCAA announced to have taken note of the content of the EO-Netwerk documentary about adoption from the province Hunan, which was broadcast on Dutch television on 11 March 2008. The authorities reacted as follows on the situation as shown during the broadcasting.

1. In case of adoption via the Shaoyang Social Welfare Institute in all cases the legal procedures for adoption were followed as in force in China, whereby the Public Security Bureau traced the natural parents and public announcements were made, and in case the natural parents could not be found, according to procedures agreement at all levels was gotten before adoptions were started.

2. Concerning the news in the Dutch media that the too many born babies (reference to one-child-policy) were taken by local officials and subsequently offered to foreigner for adoption: according to research it was found that this news is not in accordance with the facts. Fact is that the citizens of Gaoping Village, Longhu county of the commune Shaoyang had illegally adopted twelve foundlings and one child from a non married couple. According to the Chinese adoption law these families did not fulfil the conditions for adoption. In order to protect the interest of the children, the families concerned have, according to the law and after agreement with the families involved, transferred the guardianship of the by them illegally adopted foundlings voluntarily to the state. In the case of the child of the non-married couple, it appeared that the biological mother left for unknown destination, and the family of the biological father appeared not to be (financially) able to care for the child and he agreed voluntarily that he child will be cared for by the State. The child still lives in the Shaoyang Social Welfare Institute.

It is not so that the local officials with force take so-called too many born baby's from their parents to offer them subsequently to foreigners for adoption. Of the above mentioned children none has been adopted by Dutch families. The news that from twins one child would have been taken by force and transferred to the orphanage, is not based on the truth. In China it is not against the one-child-policy to have twins or multiple children, and poor families who get multiple births can request financial support form the State.

From the before it may be clear that the reading of Netwerk on important points differs from that of the Chinese authorities.


Iin case of adoptions from Treaty countries, the responsibility for the control of the question if the prerequisites of the Hague Adoption Convention are fulfilled, rests with the competent authorities in the country of origin. That means that the cooperating countries in intercountry adoption are highly dependent on mutual trust. In my reaction to the report of Mr. Oosting about adoptions from India of 7 November 2007 (Second Chamber 2007-2008, 31265, nr. 1) I discussed this extensively. Also for China counts that I have to be able to trust on the integer manner the Chinese authorities implement the principles of the Hague Convention. The Netherlands can let themselves be informed by the Chinese authorities and if irregularities appear they can ask for clarification and if necessary insist on measures to be taken.

The meetings with the Chinese authorities and other named institutions, organisations and person in China enable me to create a reasonable image of the policy followed on intercountry adoption in China. According to the report of the delegation and on the bass of what was discussed on 12 August, the legislation in China is in accordance with the principles of the Hague Convention and the authorities in Beijing are making the necessary efforts to have adoptions from China done in accordance with the Hague Convention. This is also the view of the other speaking partners and colleague Central Authorities. The authorities, moreover, show to be open to possible shortcomings. In the discussions that the delegation had with organisations outside the government in China and in contacts with other foreign Central Authorities that image has been confirmed. They point to the fact that Chinese authorities are making much progress and are open to advise of foreign organisations and authorities. The discussion the delegation had does not allow, however, to express opinions on the way the policy is implemented at provincial level. The situation differs from province to province. With a certain regularity cases come up that indicate an insufficient implementations of the rules in certain provinces of the People's Republic. These are worrying sounds. According to the authorities the rules are implemented as they should be by the provinces. They acknowledge however that in practice irregularities took place and my continue to take place when persons (criminals) consciously bypass the regulations. When such behaviour comes to light strong actions are taken. The way authorities acted at the time as a result of irregularities in Hunan confirms this.

UNICEF staff with whom the delegation spoke in China points out that in their view it concerns exceptions and it would regret if because of these one would not see the structural improvements. The reporting about the way in which CCAA is dealing with the children who lost their parents due to the recent earthquake is in this matter a reason for trust.

Also where it concerns the addressing of trade in children – which happens in China, but according to UNICEF relatively not on big scale – there is progress. China has a population of 1.3 billion people. Compared with this the number of incidents, however serious these each as such may be, is extremely modest. Also the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference for International Private Law points to that. News from the Chinese media about the active persecution of baby-traders in the Province Yunnan makes clear that it hereby does not stay with just words.

The worrying sounds about the practice of payment by homes, especially the news of the ABC-news of May this years, I have brought to the attention of the CCAA.
CCAA has taken the incident in Hunan at the time as occasion to convince all Child Welfare Institutes and Social Welfare institutes from where children are adopted that payments for children are prohibited. The news reporting of ABC-news calls for the question if that approach was sufficient. That is from the Netherlands of course difficult to conclude. Save the Children UK has told the delegation that if payments would be something that happened often, this should have been known to this organisation. That appeared not the case. Save the Children and UNICEF have committed to the delegation that they would inform the Dutch Embassy in case they are confronted with signals of payment. The fact that CCAA in the conversation acknowledges that the interpretation of certain rules in practice differ, has shown conciousness that payment incidentally happens and sets up a countrywide campaign to make clear that payments are not authorised, makes clear the the Chinese authorities acknowledge these problems and are not getting away from their responsibility.

Overseeing the whole I conclude that there is no reason to reconsider the currently existing adoption relation between the Netherlands and the People's Republic of China. It is, however, important to continue to follow development in China and improvements made by the authorities. For this I consider a reinforcing of the cooperation between the Netherlands and China the way to go. The importance of more frequent contact was also subscribed to by CCAA and again confirmed in the meeting hat took place on 12 August 2008. This fits into my intention to intensify international contacts surrounding intercountry adoption. For this goal, as of 1 September 2008, a special advisor for international cooperation in intercountry adoption has been appointed at the Central authority who will take care of improvement of the information position in ensuring the rules of the Hague Adoption Treaty.

It speaks for itself, that the risk of incidental irregularities at provincial level, as lined out before, require continuous alertness and the critical following of adoption, as well from the side of the Central authority and the Dutch diplomatic representation in China, as well as from the side of the adoption agencies who mediate the placement of children from China.

As indicated before, it is in the interest of the children that irregularities in procedures are prevented as much as possible, and fought. I am of the opinion that there is also a responsibility at the Dutch side and consider it important that, if there are indications of ongoing irregularities, in all cases immediately these will be brought to the attention of the Chinese authorities. In case there would be new developments in the relation with the Chinese authorities that would require a change of my in position as outlined in this letter, then I will inform the Chamber about this immediately. In this way I mean to do justice to the joint interest to have adoptions done in an integer manner, in the interest of the children.

The Minister of Justice

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The "Hidden" Supply of Children

Now that the Olympics are past, waiting families hope that the flow of children will accelerate and wait times will decrease. Hope is often pinned to the large number of non-IA orphanages in China's Social Welfare system. Once some of these orphanages join the international adoption program, the thinking goes, they will submit large numbers of dossiers to the CCAA, and wait times will begin to fall.

There are several problems with this assumption. The CCAA has been adding new orphanages to the program since it began international adoptions in 1992. Each and every year has seen new orphanages join the program. Some of the early orphanages eventually had large adoption programs, but the last orphanage to join with any significant numbers was Suixi County in Guangdong, who joined in 2002. Since that time, I am aware of no new orphanage that has submitted any significant numbers of children.

There is a very good reason for this. In my conversations with directors of non-IA orphanages, all have expressed little desire to become part of the IA program. There are several reasons for this reluctance. First, the CCAA requires orphanages to make substantial investments in the facilities in anticipation of visits by foreigners. Additionally, orphanages are required to hire medical and nanny personnel beyond their current levels. Lastly, the paperwork required for an international adoption is significantly more cumbersome than paperwork for a domestic adoption. All of this obviously adds to the overhead of a facility, and consequently many directors have chosen not to participate.

But what about the financial benefits derived by the international adoption program? Won't that create an incentive for orphanages to join the program?

Many of the orphanages joining the program begin by submitting files for special needs children. For example, Huidong County (Guangdong) joined the IA program in May 2007, submitting five files. Four of the five children had special needs, and the fifth child was over four years old. Thus, the adoption of special needs children can be a motivation for directors to join the program.

But what about the orphanages? Are there not possibly large numbers of untapped children that could be brought into the international adoption program?

Probably not. The problem has several facets. China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs reported in 2001 that there were 1,550 state-run welfare institutions, 160 of which specialized in the care of orphans. These facilities were said to have cared for approximately 41,000 children (Kay Johnson, “Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son – Abandonment, Adoption and Orphanage Care in China”, Yeong & Yeong Book Company, p. 204). The problem is that in the Chinese, "Social Welfare Institute" (fuliyuan) encompasses not just orphan care but also old people care. A significant portion of the 1,550 State-run "welfare institutions" take care of no children whatsoever. In fact, upwards of 30-40% of the above numbered facilities take care of only old people.

Thus, the pool of potential participants in the IA program realistically stands at around 1,100 facilities, still a large increase over the approximate 450 facilities currently in China's international program. (A 2004 Chinese Government pronouncement states that “Today, China has 192 special welfare institutions for children and 600 comprehensive welfare institutions with a children's department, accommodating a total of 54,000 orphans and disabled children. If accurate, and I have no reason to believe it isn't, that would reduce the number of non-IA orphanages to a little over 300 facilities).

It is difficult to make contact with the 700 non-IA orphanages. There is no centralized listing, and often even local 114 (Information) directory assistance have no phone numbers for the small orphanages scattered around China. Thus, conducting a systematic survey of the non-IA orphanages is practically impossible. However, in July we contacted thirteen non-IA orphanages located in Fujian, Guangdong, Hebei, Hubei, Hunan, Liaoning and Zhejiang Provinces. While not a large survey, the results of our conversations with these directors is nevertheless informative.

Keep in mind that these thirteen orphanages are not direct participants in the international adoption program. Conventional wisdom suggests that these directors should have large numbers of children in their care, and be anxious to cooperate with any family seeking to adopt a child in their care.

Duplicating the protocol of our April 2006 survey of international orphanages, I had a caller pose as a domestic family from the area interested in knowing if there were any children available for adoption. Two of the thirteen (15%) indicated that they did not care for children, and were strictly in charge of old people care. Four of the thirteen (30%) flatly stated that they currently had no children in their care, and that there were waiting families. The number of families waiting averaged about 25. One of the orphanages (Lianzhou, Guangdong) indicated that they transferred all of their foundlings to the Qingxin orphanage for international adoption. Only one orphanage (Xianyou, Fujian) indicated a single available child, adoptable with a 20,000 yuan donation.

The remaining six orphanages reported that they only had special needs children in their care, with waiting lists of families desiring healthy children (in the case of Enmei orphanage in Zhejiang the list has 600 families). One director indicated that his orphanage would not adopt a special needs child domestically because "we don't trust a family to care for the special needs child long-term." Experience has apparently shown this director that domestic families may indicate a willingness to adopt a child with a special need, but that most, if not all, change their minds some time down the road.

I am convinced that none of the non-participating orphanages in China's welfare system has any significant number of healthy children that can be brought into the IA program. Every non-IA orphanage I have ever visited or contacted had no healthy children available, and nearly all of them had waiting lists of families ready to adopt any children that arrived in the orphanage.

Thus, non-IA orphanages don't join the international adoption program for several reasons -- high capital expenditure requirements; few children that need placement in the IA program. In other words, the orphanages not in the IA program already have a working adoption program outside the IA program, programs that don't require the bureaucracy of the CCAA.


The thirteen orphanages contacted were:
Xianyou, Fujian
Doumen, Guangdong
Lainzhou, Guangdong
Xinfeng, Guangdong
Hengshui, Hebei
Hongshan, Hubei
Zigui, Hubei
Ningxiang, Hunan
Hongwei, Liaoning
Rixin-Dalian, Liaoning
Huangnanzhou, Qinghai
Enmei, Zhejiang
Tongxiang, Zhejiang

Monday, August 11, 2008

Wait Time Prognosis for 2009

With the Olympics in full-swing, waiting families are anxiously wondering if referrals will accelerate once the world's attention passes from China. An analysis of orphanage submissions in October 2007 showed that orphanage submissions in 2007 allowed us to predict increasing wait times, as submissions from the largest Provinces participating in the international program saw significant declines from 2006 to 2007.

A comparison of submissions of Chongqing, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, and Jiangsu, and Jiangxi Provinces for the first six months of 2008 shows submission rates continuing a downward trend.

As I have pointed out in a prior analysis, submission rates are higher in the last six months of the year as compared to the first six months. This is a reflection of the higher abandonment rates experienced by most orphanages in October-January of each year. For example, the six Provinces analyzed in this article saw 2,753 submissions from January through June 2007, a number which increased to 2,960 for July through December 2007, a 7.5% increase.

Thus, for purposes of this analysis, we will compare January through June in each year, rather than the previous six months.

Collectively, the six primary Provinces submitted 2,624 files in the first six months of 2008, a decrease of 5% from the first six months of 2007 (2,753). Individually, however, half of the Provinces saw increases: Guangdong, Guangxi and Jiangsu. Taken together, these three Provinces submitted 153 more files in the first six months of 2008 than in the first six months of 2007.

This increase was not enough to offset the declines in the other three Provinces -- Chongqing, Hunan and Jiangxi. Collectively, these three Provinces submitted 224 fewer children in the first six months of 2008 than in the same period in 2007. The greatest decrease was seen in Chongqing, which saw submissions fall 38% in one year.

It is widely believed that China received an increasing number of applications between January 2006 (the current month for which referrals are now being assigned) and May 2007 when the new restrictions were made effective. Thus, with an increasing "demand" and falling "supply" over the next six months, waiting families should not expect any appreciable speed-up in referrals.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Book Alert: "Silent Tears"

Having had substantial experience in China, it is refreshing to finally read a book that presents a realistic view behind the curtain of China's orphanages. Many adoptive families have an idealized view of their child's orphanage. Families often ask me to "take pictures of my daughter's favorite nanny." Usually, however, I find that the children in most orphanages are treated as little more than an investment, with the cost in care being constantly offset to the ultimate reward -- the $3,000 orphanage donation.

"Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage" was written by a volunteer who worked for over three years in an internationally adopting orphanage in China's Jiangsu Province. She writes under a pen name to hide the identification of the orphanage, but in reality the conditions and attitudes she describes are found everywhere, in nearly all orphanages. Her story is at once infuriating, yet inspiring. It will leave the reader with a very realistic impression of the type of lives our children lived before being adopted, and the lives that those left behind continue to live.

Kay provided Research-China.Org with the following sample of her book. It can be purchased through Amazon.Com, and is highly recommended reading.


I entered through those stark, gray orphanage walls with more than a little apprehension. What would I find? Would the nannies accept me? Would the children be fearful of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed American woman? Would the conditions be as dire as I imagined?

So many questions and uncertainties that first day when fate brought me to the gates of a place that would burrow itself deep in my heart. It took time, but a year of keeping a low profile brought me acceptance and unlimited access to the children. For four years, I held the babies; spoke to them, sang to them, and fought their battles for them when they were too sick or afraid to do it for their selves. I played trading games with the administration, giving items of interest and paying many expenses. In return, they allowed me to duck under the red tape to place once-rejected children on adoption lists or send them for life-saving surgeries. With disdain showing in their eyes, they allowed me to comfort those who needed it, and cry for those who were beyond saving. I became a part of their world and they became mine.

It was a wonderful experience.
It was a heart-breaking experience.
An experience that changed me.
An experience I’ll never forget.

Upon my return home to the states last summer, I was faced with concern from my sisters and my parents. “You’ve changed,” they all said. I was afraid to ask whether they were indicating it as a good thing or a bad thing. There is no doubt that the many obstacles I overcame took their toll on me and brought out a part of me I did not know existed.

Digging back through memories, one of the early days at the orphanage went like this:

July 11, 2003
Ann asked me to initiate a new volunteer named Yolanda. She warned me that Yolanda was very outspoken and flamboyant, and asked if I would caution her about making derogatory remarks to the staff about the care and treatment of the children. She is worried we might be banned from our volunteer work if anyone is too judgmental.

I met Yolanda at the coffee shop near the orphanage, and as soon as I saw her, I knew there was going to be trouble. For one thing, the temperature was supposed to hit about 105 degrees that day. I was dressed for it in thin khakis, white T-shirt and hair up, but not Yolanda. She was Spanish, forty-one years old, and a fitness fanatic with a body that bespoke long workouts over many years. Yoli (she instructed me to call her) was wearing two shirts over a pair of tight silk pants with stiletto heels, her dark hair a wild mess of curls around her face.

Yoli was a fast talker and rapidly took me through her life story and what had brought her to China. Based on her many anti-American comments, I figured she was probably disappointed that I was going to become her volunteer partner.

Jumping in when she finally paused for air, I quickly shifted the conversation over to expectations of us at the orphanage. I tried to convey to her the seriousness of not making a bad impression and not criticizing the care of the children. I thought I was getting my point through, but was about to find out that not much gets through to Yoli.

After going through the proper administrative channels, we made our way to the baby area. As soon as she had taken one look, she started in with disdain and attitude. I told her she had to remove her shoes and wear the ones provided, but it was obvious she resented parting with her deadly weapons―although she did so and grudgingly put on the ragged slippers we all had to wear. The slipper policy is one of the few rules put in place to stop the spread of outside disease and one we all strictly obey.

For a short while, we enjoyed playing with the babies, but soon it was feeding time. It was the same as always: the workers prop the bottles on sheets and allow the babies to suck for about five minutes; then come and snatch the bottles away. The babies still appear hungry; I am not sure why they are not allowed more milk.

Yoli and I took the bottles we were able to hang onto and tried to move around to the babies who had yet to be fed. One little preemie boy looks like a shriveled-up old man. They never move him and his head is completely flat on the back from always lying in the same position. He is so skinny; he looks to weigh not more than four pounds. They had not bothered to give him a bottle so I grabbed one and rushed over. I realized why they hadn’t bothered; he was so weak he did not have the strength to suckle. I spent the next few minutes giving him drinks in small bursts by squeezing the nipple directly into his mouth.

When it came time to undress them for their baths, Yoli asked me to take care of the premature boy because she was afraid of hurting him. I picked him up and laid him on my left arm with his face in my hand. I was amazed at the way his little body fit on my slender arm. I massaged his shoulders and neck to help with the stiffness. I rubbed his tiny eyebrows because I remembered my baby girls both used to like that, and I was looking for a way to make him feel loved and comforted without causing more pain.

The worker took him from me and held him with one hand under his head and one hand holding his ankles. He was so stiff that he looked like a play doll. She held him brutally under the cold water, and Yoli wept. I was trying to hold it together because Yoli had already made them angry by her outburst of emotion.

I had prepared Yoli for the cold, brusque way in which the ayis behaved toward the babies, but it apparently had not registered. Under her breath, Yoli was calling the ayis dirty names; she thought they could not understand. They knew enough to know she was talking about them, so I kept my head down and did not respond. I know Yoli thinks I am a wimp, but I do not want to make things worse for the children.

The disgusted looks Yoli kept throwing their way did nothing but infuriate the women more. The workers passed the babies under the stream of water and then roughly dumped them into their cribs with a piece of clothing. Most of the time, they threw the clothes over their faces, causing the babies to struggle for breath underneath. Yoli and I rushed around dressing them and trying to calm them after the shock of the cold showers. What Yoli does not understand is the more compassion, pity, and outrage we show on our faces— the rougher the staff is with the children. Two of the infants had bruises that were not there last week; based on their limited mobility I can only imagine how they got them.

I hope Yoli’s attitude will not get us thrown out. Even though we cannot change the situation, at least we give the babies a little love and care while we are there. What I had learned from Ann is that we simply have to keep silent and do what we can. All the histrionics only make it worse.

The boy preemie is really struggling and I can’t get him out of my thoughts. I want him to prove to the workers that he can survive. It is obvious in the disapproving looks they give us that they think it is a waste of time to nurture him. If nothing else, this orphanage runs a flawless model of survival of the fittest. One final thought for the day―I hope that Yoli will not want to come back. To lose a new volunteer is sad, but it will be better for the children.

Things at the orphanage improved greatly over the years. I won’t say that it was a model institution, because it wasn’t. There were still issues of occasional abuse and neglect. However, with our team assisting the nannies in their daily chores and helping to care for the babies, the overall atmosphere became happier and safer. In time, I built a rapport with one director that called herself my Chinese mother. I was able to laugh and joke with some of the nannies, many of whom I had a genuine affection for. With a huge support network from local expatriates and international colleagues, we were able to provide urgent medical care for many children. Selfishly, it took me quite awhile to get over missing the ease and comforts of America and accept the hardships of my new life, but I discovered I could survive—and even flourish in a third-world country. To put it simply, I grew up.

Here is a piece from later in my China saga that highlights the changes in my demeanor:

March 16, 2006

Isn’t it strange how a key can just lose itself? Awakening this morning to a gorgeous, sunny day, I decided that since I had just spent three days in bed with a stubborn flu, I was going to ride my bike to the Ling Li, our local market, to buy vegetables for a salad. I haven’t ridden all winter, and it was time to begin my spring exercise regimen. However, since experiencing how rampant the theft of bikes is here, I first needed to find the key to my bicycle lock.

After a frustratingly unsuccessful search, I opted to walk—the day was lovely. As a writer, I am constantly formulating little essays in my head, and ideas come much more easily when I observe things at a slower pace.

But how is one expected to cross six lanes of traffic and two lanes of bicycles before the light turns red? I tried twice at different intersections, walking as fast as I could, but it was simply impossible. I would get perhaps halfway before the light changed, and then I’d have to race for the opposite sidewalk. How did others less nimble than me fare?

It was heartwarming to see many grandparents strolling hand in hand with their grandchildren. In China, it is customary for the grandparents to care for the small children while their parents work, unlike in developed countries where daycare is prevalent. It’s a practical concept if you don’t mind your parents living with you under the same roof, which is a sacrifice many new young couples here must make.

I passed several Chinese locals leaving the market carrying small bags of raw meat, which explained all the red splotches on the sidewalk that I delicately stepped over. They carry the meat home unwrapped and bloody—a dangerous bacterial breeding ground, particularly in this warm weather. The meat at the market hangs in the open, humid air; flies swarm everywhere, invariably settling on the meat no matter what the temperature outside or in. Ordinarily, I avoid the meat side of the markets because of the dirt, nauseous smells, choking throngs of people, and thousands of aggravating flies.

I strolled toward the market, trying to ignore the exuberant calls of “Hello laowei!” (foreigner) from a group of construction men.

I yelled back at them in Chinese, “Wo bushi laowei, wo ju zai zhe li!” (I’m not a foreigner, I live here!)

This prompted hysterical laughter; they weren’t expecting a sarcastic retort in Chinese from a tall, blonde American. Not wanting to encourage them further, I continued past without turning my head.

Nearing the market, I decided I’d better eat lunch before going to the open food area; the experience always throws off my appetite. Instead, I stopped at KFC, where I practiced ordering in Mandarin while the cashier practiced her limited English. The scene would have made for a great comedic skit.

I sat down to eat and quickly became the center of attention as people began staring, pointing, and commenting to their companions. I could almost hear their thoughts: “What country is she from? Why is she alone? What is she doing here among us?”

A few years ago, I would never have been able to withstand the pressure of being alone in a public place full of curious, gawking Chinese. Time has made me immune to this kind of attention. I stare right back and even have the language skills to tell them to quit staring. I’m learning to live through all the frustrations. Even better, I can keep a smile on my face and if I choose, engage in conversation. I have come a long way from the na├»ve, idealistic woman who first landed in this country some three years ago. Who was that person?

As I finished my meal, I realized I should not have gulped the entire cup of strange-tasting coke. I headed to the bathroom, knowing I’d be extremely lucky if it contained a toilet.

Luck was not on today’s agenda, and in any case, I needed to get over my squatter phobia. I hooked my bag over my shoulder and squatted like a local, not even bothering to look down and see if my aim was on. I figured my shoes needed a good wash anyway. Afterward I scrubbed my hands vigorously and strode out with my head held high. I’m no princess; I am no longer too good to squat. It only took me three years to come down off my pedestal.

I walked out of the department area and into the open food market. Upon entering, I was immediately harassed by dozens of vendors wanting me to stop at their vegetables. I ignored the aggressive hawkers and sought out a polite shop owner, a scarce commodity here where every kuai (Chinese dollar) earned means a decent meal or a bus ride. Eventually, I found one who smiled warmly as I stopped to browse her cucumbers.
When I stepped over to the fruits, a woman pointed at some strange objects and asked if I wanted any. They were round and yellowish and unlike anything I’d ever seen.
“Bu zhi dow, wo hai pa . . .” (I am afraid and I don’t know what they are), I said uncertainly and she handed me one to sample.

She laughed good-humoredly. “Don’t be afraid,” she said in Mandarin. I decided to live dangerously and bit into it. Delicious! It was sweet like a peach but not fuzzy, and small like a ping-pong ball but oblong shaped. I bought a dollar’s worth―Amanda is sure to love them. I wish I could remember what the woman called them.

More succulent-looking oranges, grapes, and apples beckoned enticingly, but my hands were full and I had to get everything home. I left loaded with the strange fruit, tomatoes, and cucumbers. It all cost less than two dollars, a remarkable deal by American standards. Heading to the street, I contemplated walking home for all of five seconds before waving down a taxi. I was weary from the stress of dealing with another so-called ordinary day in China.

In closing, let me say that there are days that I long to be right back there sitting in the sweltering orphanage nursery with a baby in my arms and a toddler pulling at my knees. I crave the challenge of going to battle for a child and feeling that triumph when they are finally adopted or a once-opposed surgery is successful. But then there are the still frequent long nights that memories of tragedies I witnessed haunt my dreams. I realize some people can only take so much sadness in one lifetime. I’ve had my share---this I know for sure.