Friday, March 21, 2008

What the "Donation" Really Is

There is word from China that the fee required by some orphanages to process an international adoption is about to increase from $3,000 to $5,000. I say "some" because a survey of orphanages in Guangdong, Guangxi and Jiangsu shows that the increase is not unanimous, and it is not being dictated by the CCAA. It appears that it is being left up to the individual directors themselves to charge what they feel appropriate. In other words, it is an attempt to get more money from the adoption program.

Prospective families, by and large, have been understanding of this increase. "Things cost more nowadays," one adoptive parents wrote on a popular adoption newsgroup, "and more special needs children are being abandoned so they need the funds more than ever." Another parents wrote "To tell you the truth, the orphanage donation fee was probably one of the only fees I did feel was justified and the least associated with corruption."

It might help to put this increase (and it is being implimented on a "trial-balloon" basis by individual orphanages) into some perspective. The $3,000 "donation" has been part of the adoption program since its inception in 1992, and has not deviated in the following 16 years.

How much is $3,000 in China? With the average director's salary in the neighborhood of $160 per month, a single orphanage donation of $3,000 will pay the director's salary for a year and a half. With the average foster family expense being around $30 to care for a child for one month, one donation fee of $3,000 will care for eight children for a year.

And, lest we forget, the $3,000 orphanage donation was enough money to convince six Hunan directors to purchase trafficked children for $350, only to turn around and adopt them internationally.

Obviously, $3,000 is still a lot of money in China.

But what is wrong with orphanages increasing the fee paid by adopting families? After all, the dollar is way down, and expenses and overhead are increasing. Shouldn't we be a little understanding on this increase?

No. I wrote two years ago about the financial disparity between internationally adopting families and domestic families in China. Due to Western families' ability to pay what in China is a rich-man's fee to adopt, orphanages were actively discriminating against domestic families in order to maximize their cash-flow. As a result, unless a domestic family was able to approximate the contribution made by international families, orphanages were unwilling to adopt a child to them. In fact, 93% of the internationally adopting orphanages were uncooperative when a middle-income domestic family applied to adopt a child. It should be clear to everyone that increasing the adoption fee to $5,000 will do nothing to solve this discrepancy. In fact, one could argue that increasing the donation fee is in violation of the Hague Agreement, which requires a sending country make a priority of placing children domestically.

But the increased fee will have an even darker result. A significant reason for the decline in abandonments across China is the recognition by birth parents that healthy infants have significant worth, and therefore an increasing number of families are arranging their children to be sold to other families or traffickers rather than simply leaving them on the doorstep of the orphanage. Many orphanages, recognizing this supply-demand reality, are entering the marketplace alongside the traffickers, purchasing babies from birth parents or from the traffickers themselves. A fee increase of $2,000 will only add fuel to the baby-buying problem.

Adopting families should actively work against this tentative fee increase. Families should inform their agencies that they are unwilling to pay the increased fee. Only by "pushing back" will the orphanages attempting to increase their fee be forced to back down.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dutch Documentary on Trafficking

Last night in the Netherlands Netwerk TV broadcast a documentary on trafficking into China's orphanages.

Predictably, many in the adoption community are discounting the story, feeling that this story is "old news". Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Netwerk TV's program focused attention on children taken from their biological parents by Family Planning officials in Shaoyang. One young girl was one of eleven children confiscated from a village in Gaoping for being unregistered. Her parents were unmarried at the time of her birth, and did not file her birth with the Family Planning office. The story was discussed in a previous blog. The whereabouts of the majority of these children is unknown due to the lack of detailed information as to age and confiscation dates, but the whereabouts of the child profiled last night is known: She was adopted internationally by the Shaoyang orphanage, and resides in the U.S.

Shaoyang is not alone in adopting confiscated children internationally. A similar event occurred in Chongqing's Hechuan and Wanzhou orphanages, where in 2006 sixteen children, all over the age of 3 months, were "found" at the orphanage gate. In the case of Hechuan, three girls -- ages 75 to 94 days old -- were processed on the same day, and in Wanzhou five boys and eight girls -- 2 1/2 to 6 years old -- were all processed over the course of five days. It seems probable that these children were "rounded up" and brought to the orphanages. How many other children are "found" in similar ways?

It should be clear to even the casual observer that corruption is becoming an increasing issue with Chinese adoption. Families can discount each story as it appears, but collectively a case is steadily being built that baby buying, Family Planning confiscations, and other extra-legal means are being employed today in many of China's orphanages.

Rather than fight those who seek to bring notice of these problems, the adoption community should work to insure that China's adoption program is ethical.