Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hunan in Retrospect

"The CCAA included in its investigation all of the children from Hunan province adopted by Canadians, and found that all of these children were legitimately orphaned or abandoned and that there are no biological parents searching for them" (Letter from Canada's Intercountry Adoption Services, dated 12 March 2008).

On November 25, 2005 the world was alerted to "Orphanages in central China's Hunan Province" buying "at least 100" children and adopting them for "8,000 yuan to 30,000 yuan". While the earliest report did not connect this buying by the orphanages to international adoption, later press coverage began to make the connection. Xinhua News, in an update to the story published the following week, stated that officials involved indicated that "some of them were even sold to foreign adopters."

The Chinese Government, seeing the story becoming a firestorm of concern and controversy in the international press, shut down coverage two weeks later, forbidding any press coverage of the story inside China. It then began mounting a significant damage control campaign to reassure the world that children were not being trafficked into the orphanages for purposes of adopting them to Western families.

The first step was to limit the scope of the investigation and trial to a small geographical area -- Hengyang City in southern Hunan Province. This narrowed the orphanages implicated to just six: the Qidong, Hengnan, Hengshan, Hengyang and Hengdong County orphanages, and the orphanage in Changning City. Second, the government focused the investigation on just 85 children: the number of children trafficked into these six orphanages in 2005.

Additionally, the CCAA instructed the Hunan Provincial Civil Affairs to immediately stop processing adoption submissions for the entire Province. As a result, adoption submissions stopped in late December 2005, although children processed before the shut down continued to be adopted into 2006.

Once the Chinese government shut down reporting on the story, it was able to guide attention away from orphanages originally named as involved in the trafficking. Initial reports, for example, named Changsha First orphanage in Hunan's capital as "a stable client" that "had bought many babies from the Hengyang orphanage." Additional orphanages named in the early reporting included "Binzhou [Chenzhou] and Zhuzhou" and orphanages in "Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Guangdong Province."

In February 2006, twenty-three officials were tried for child trafficking. Most of the officials were given a slap on the wrist, with only one receiving jail time:

"Chen Ming, former head of Hengdong Social Welfare Home, was sentenced to one year in prison. The heads of Hengyang and Hengdong county civil affairs bureaus Deng Guangyang and Zhou Liqun, among others, were sacked for their negligence of duties."

While Chen Ming, director of the Hengdong Orphanage was sentenced to one year, he would in fact only serve three months. Three of the primary traffickers, including Liang Guihong, Duan Meilin and Dai Chao, were sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Liang Guihong was the source of most of the children trafficked from Wuchuan City in Guangdong Province to Hunan. In late 2002, she was put in touch with Duan Meilin, a resident of Changning City in Hunan. Over the next three years, over 1,000 children would be moved from Wuchuan and sold to orphanages in Hunan and other areas.

With the well-publicized trial over at the end of February 2006, the CCAA informed the Provincial Civil Affairs office to recommence processing of adoptions from Hunan orphanages, excluding the six involved in the trial. Adoptions for these six would be delayed for another five months, and quietly restarted in September 2006.

A March 11, 2006 Washington Post article seeking to show that children have been kidnapped in order to be internationally adopted prompted the CCAA to issue a short, exactly worded statement four days later. In this statement, identical except for the country being addressed, the CCAA assured the world that "all of the children" involved in the trafficking "were legitimately orphaned or abandoned and that there are no biological parents searching for them." While many in the adoption community assumed that this meant that no trafficked children had been adopted internationally, the purpose of the statement was to refute the charges of kidnapping raised by the Post article.

Adopting families are given a "Progress Report" on their prospective child at the time of referral that gives informal information regarding their child. Often this progress report includes information that doesn't end up in the final adoption documents.

That is the case with the adoption paperwork for Ning Mei Lin (name changed to protect the child's identity). In March 2004, Ning Mei Lin's adoptive parents, a family living in Canada, excitedly received a referral for a one-year old girl. She was found, the Progress Report stated, "at the entrance to the Quanfeng Station of our city by Duan Meilin, a resident of Yiyang Town." Duan Meilin would be arrested almost two years later for trafficking children.

Ning Mei Lin was trafficked to the Changning orphanage early in the trafficking program, in January 2003. What is significant is that the orphanage did not even feel compelled to change the name of the trafficker. Also significant is that Ning Mei Lin proves that trafficked children were adopted internationally.

Chen Ming, director of Hengdong County's orphanage during the trafficking period, described in a recent Dutch Documentary how Duan Mei Lin and her partners would "shop" the children from one orphanage to the other:

"Normally we paid 3,000 yuan. If you offered only 2,000 yuan or less, then they brought the child to someone else’s orphanage. The men with the children came by and compared the prices."

Thus, it is hard to know for sure which orphanages Duan Mei Lin and her partners dealt with, but we can see the impact their business had on the orphanages that were implicated and prosecuted.

Adoption Statistics of the "Hunan Six"

It is interesting to look back and see the effect the trafficking had on the adoption rates of the orphanages involved. While the Chinese Government sought in the press to minimize the number of children involved, adoption rates and court testimony both show that hundreds of children were involved.

Testimony at trial was limited to the 85 children trafficked by Duan Mei Lin and her partners to the six Hengyang City orphanages in 2005: Hengnan County (22), Hengdong County (18), Hengyang County (11), Changning City (7), Qidong County (15), and Hengshan County (12). Observers at the trial, however, indicate that the numbers were actually much higher. For example, informants close to the orphanages indicate that between 2003 and 2005, Hengnan County had purchased 169 children, Hengshan County 232, and Hengyang County 409 children from Duan Mei Lin and her fellow traffickers. All of this ignores other sources of children that the orphanages employed independently of Duan Mei Lin and her family.

It is important to realize that the Hunan trafficking scandal began as a directive in 2001 by the director of the Changning orphanage for his employees to begin looking for adoptable children in the area. Finders of unwanted children were "rewarded" with 1,000 yuan, an attractive amount of money in a rural area where average annual wages are less than 3,000 yuan. A similar program was instituted in the Hengyang County orphanage, where employees were promised bonuses if they located three adoptable children.

In late 2001, Duan Mei Lin and her family located Liang Guihong, an elderly woman in Wuchuan City in Guangdong Province. Ms. Liang was a baby-broker, a woman known fro taking in unwanted children and finding adoptive families for them. When Duan Mei Lin found Ms. Liang, she and her family "became wild with joy." For them, they had located a gold mine. They purchased a child for 720 yuan and brought it to the Changning orphanage, where they were paid 2,300 yuan for their trouble.

It wasn't long before other orphanages heard of the easy supply of children coming out of Guangdong. In 2003 employees of the Hengyang County orphanage journeyed south to Wuchuan to visit Ms. Liang. They offered to pay more for the babies. The price paid for each child climbed from a few hundred yuan to 3,500 yuan in the matter of a year. By the end of 2004, other orphanages, including Qidong County orphanage, had joined in the competition for these Guangdong babies.

Three of the six orphanages did international adoptions in 2000, Qidong and Hengshan Counties and Changning City. Collectively, these three orphanages adopted 138 children in 2000. The number remained practically unchanged in 2001, falling to 135 children. The number of adoptions began to increase in 2002, with the adoption rates of these three orphanages increasing 66% to 225 children. Rates in these three orphanages increased further in 2003, with 280 children being adopted.

In 2004, Changning's adoption numbers began to fall precipitously as competition from other orphanages in the area denied them many of the children from Wuchuan. Whereas Changning had seen a doubling of adoptions from 2001 to 2003 (40 to 118), in 2004 its numbers fell back down to 52, falling again in 2005 to 14. It appears from this data that the orphanage concluded that further purchases of the children from Duan Mei Lin was too expensive or impractical.

Qidong County, however, picked up much of the slack. After doing 19 international adoptions in 2002, Qidong's numbers increased 289% to 55 in 2003. In 2004, Qidong's IA submissions increased an additional 24% to 68. As a result, adoption submissions for Qidong and Hengshan Counties and Changning City totaled 217 children, a 23% decline. In 2005, Changning (now practically invisible with 14 adoptions), Hengshan and Qidong Counties submitted 285 children for adoption, a 31% increase. Qidong County more than doubled its adoption submissions from 2004 to 2005, submitting 68 in 2004 and 148 in 2005. Thus, from 2000 to 2005 these three orphanages saw adoption rates skyrocket 206%, while adoption rates in the other Hunan orphanages climbed only 40%.

The other three orphanages involved entered the international adoption program after 2000. Hengdong County started international adoptions in 2002, submitting 58. This number almost doubled to 105 in 2005. Hengnan County began adoptions in 2004 with 27 submissions, a number that increased to 121 in 2005. This explosive growth was duplicated in Hengyang County, which submitted 14 files in 2004, a number that climbed to 118 in 2005.

Collectively, the six orphanages involved in the trafficking adopted 629 children in 2005.

And then "on November 11th 2005, at approximately 3:00 pm at the Hengyang train station, two women had just placed the three infants with them into a black carriage when the police began to encircle them." The trafficking business of Duan Meilin and her family was closed.

The adoption submissions for these six orphanages cratered in 2006, partially as a result of the CCAA's actions in halting adoptions from these orphanages. As a result, 2006 saw a total of only 72 files submitted by all six orphanages. This number continued to decline in 2007, when the six submitted only 33 files for adoption.

In hindsight, the adoption patterns of these six orphanages should have raised red flags. While Hunan Province collectively fell 27% from 2002 to 2005 in adoption submissions, these six increased on average 222%.

Adoption Statistics of Other Implicated Orphanages

Three orphanages were implicated in the initial reporting on the Hunan trafficking, but were not formally prosecuted in Qidong -- Changsha First, Zhuzhou and Chenzhou (Binzhou) orphanages. Changsha First, Chenzhou and Zhuzhou were among the largest adopting orphanages in Hunan in 2005, with Chenzhou itself having the largest adoption program in Hunan Province. How do their adoption rates compare to the "Hunan Six" orphanages we just studied?

Changsha First was described as a "stable client and had bought many babies from the Hengyang orphanage." In fact, police, in the raid on the Hengyang County orphanage compound, "confiscated a car at the orphanage, which it reportedly received as a gift from a similar [orphanage] in Changsha, Hunan's capital."

Changsha First saw its numbers increase from 73 in 2000 to a peak of 348 in 2002 before falling to "only" 177 in 2005, a 242% increase over the six year period. Following the arrest of the Hunan traffickers, Changsha's numbers declined from 177 in 2005 to 58 in 2006. Last year (2007), Changsha First submitted only 11 files for international adoption.

Zhuzhou saw its adoption numbers increase from 139 in 2000 to 281 in 2002 before falling to 116 in 2005. Following the scandal, Zhuzhou's adoption submissions fell to 50 in 2006 and 31 in 2007. It is possible, even probable, that Zhuzhou was not a participant in the Duan family "business". In 2002, "the Duan family sold three infants to the welfare center of Zhuzhou City in Hunan province, capturing 6900 yuan, but as soon as they exited the building the Zhuzhou police seized them. The Hunan Provincial police immediately went to Wuchuan for further investigation. Upon learning about Ms. Liang the Wuchuan City Welfare Center went to her house and took the children away." The Wuchuan orphanage received seven children as a result of this raid. Thus, it appears that the Zhuzhou orphanage attempted to stop the Duans by reporting them to the police.

Chenzhou, a medium-sized international adopting orphanage in 2000 with 69 adoptions, grew to be among the largest by 2003, when it submitted 212 files for international adoption. Also known as Binzhou is some press reports, Chenzhou's adoption numbers fell from 188 in 2005 to 141 in 2007. Chenzhou orphanage has seen the smallest reduction in adoptions following the Hunan trafficking story.

Suspected Non-Implicated Orphanages

With the exception of Chenzhou City orphanage, all of the orphanages implicated by press reports as participants in the baby-buying program of Duan Mei Lin experienced dramatic declines in adoption rates in 2006 and 2007. In fact, collectively the nine orphanages implicated declined 81% from 2005 to 2007. Clearly, the disruption of Duan Mei Lin's trafficking network had dramatic repercussions for these orphanages.

Why were the Qidong area orphanages prosecuted, and the others not? I believe it was due to the fact that Chenzhou and Changsha were orphanages scattered to the north and south of Qidong, far from the center of the story. Prosecution of these large orphanages would open the door to investigations of even more orphanages in those areas, something the Chinese Government was loath to have happen. Additionally, these orphanages represented a significant portion of the international adoption program in Hunan. For that reason, when the trial began in February 2006, no mention was made of these orphanages, either in press releases or during the trial.

There were more orphanages purchasing children from the Hunan traffickers who were not named in either the press reports or in court. These were described only as orphanages in "Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Guangdong Province." Does a review of adoption statistics reveal any likely candidates for these un-named orphanages?

On the border region of Guangdong and Hunan Provinces are two orphanages that actively participated in the international adoption program in 2005. Shaoguan City and Qujiang District orphanages, located a short distance south of Hunan Province, experienced adoption patterns similar to the Hunan orphanages involved in the trafficking. In 2000, for example, Shaoguan City orphanage submitted 14 files for international adoption, while the neighboring orphanage of Qujiang submitted 12. Both programs saw dramatic increases from 2000 to 2005, with Shaoguan sending 56 files to the CCAA in 2005, and Qujiang submitting 66.

Like their Hunan counterparts, both orphanages also saw their submissions decline in 2006, even though no action was taken to slow adoptions in Guangdong Province. By 2007, Shaoguan's submissions had fallen from 56 to 8, and Qujiang's numbers collapsed from 66 to 0 submissions in 2007.

It is of course possible that these two orphanages were victims of coincidence, and had nothing to do with the Hunan traffickers. All we know is that orphanages in Guangdong were involved. Perhaps one day we will find out which ones they were.

Stopping Trafficking

Stopping this traffic will be no small feat. The basic economic incentives that rule markets have a powerful hold, even when the trade is for humans. Infants can fetch anywhere between $5,000 and $25,000. Even if the biological parents see only a small fraction of that amount, in impoverished countries that may be a hefty sum. And parents in receiving countries buy babies in spite of corruption, in the hope of giving them a better life, without realizing that they may be encouraging more trafficking ("The Baby Trade", Foreign Affairs, November/December 2003, p.119).

The U.S. State Department was of course aware of the trafficking allegations coming out of Hunan in December 2005. Relying on assurances from the Chinese Government that this was a small, regional problem, the State Department was no doubt encouraged by the CCAA's actions in shutting down Hunan to further adoptions until its "investigation" was completed. Apparently trusting that the Chinese Government was being forthright in is statements, the U.S. State Department took no action to limit adoptions in progress, or restrict future referrals. Additionally, it mounted no known independent investigation to determine how many other orphanages were involved in similar buying programs. For all intents and purposes U.S. State Department didn't, or couldn't, conduct its own investigation.

It must be realized that the U.S. State Department, and parallel bureaucracies in other receiving countries, are loath to push China to make changes, even when evidence of wrong-doing is found. Whether it is tainted toys, bad food, or purchased children, officials are slow to come out and demand investigations into known problems. It is only when public outcry rises, when the risk of inactions increases, will the pressure to act see results.

There was no such outcry with Hunan. Families in the adoption community were largely silent, hoping that the story remained small and that the program would continue on. For the most part, attentive parents were those who had not yet adopted their first or second child, and thus were emotionally invested in having the problems resolved. The State Department was thus under no significant public pressure to do anything other than wait for the Chinese to give them the green light.

Few in the adoption community asked how it could be that the problem could be limited to only six orphanages in a small area of Hunan Province. Few asked why these directors felt it necessary to reward employees and pay traffickers to locate babies for adoption when the conventional wisdom held that the orphanages were full of children. And few asked how many other orphanages across China had similar "reward" or baby-buying programs. By looking at Hunan in retrospect, we can see clues to the larger issue of baby-buying by China's orphanages.


Here are the adoption statistics for each orphanage in Hunan Province from 2000 to 2007 (click on image to enlarge):

1) Initial news report in China Daily, November 25, 2005

2) Follow-up Xinhua article from December 2, 2005

3) China shuts down press coverage on the trafficking story from December 16, 2005

4) Chinese authorities incorrectly report "Hunan adoptions not halted"

5) Hunan trial transcript (English) under "Vonnis"

6) English translation of best Chinese coverage of the Hunan story
7) Washington Post article concerning Hunan Trafficking


Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Where would these unwanted children have wound up if htey had not been sold to the orphanages? Would they have been left to die? Became little daughters in law? The trafficking story seems to imply that these children were stolen or taken from parents who wanted them. Is that true? Or were they sold by their birth families to a broker, a child trafficker? If they were sold willignly then it is the birth parents who are the bad guys here to me. The brokers are just making a living and finding homes for the children. Have they found any cases where a birth parent reported a child as stolen? Do we really think if we stop the international adoption program there that the brokers will stop selling the children or the birth parents will keep them?

Research-China.Org said...

I suspect that absent a market for these kids, they would have been kept by their birth families or adopted by relatives or other "friends" of the birth families. That is what occurs in the vast majority of cases.

No one expects trafficking to end with the cessation of the IA program, for it is much larger than that. But we should work to end the orphanages' role in the problem.

Unfortunately there is no system in China to track stolen children across Provincial boundaries, so it is extremely difficult to gain any perspective on whether children are being abducted into the orphanages. I don't suspect that is happening much, given the high penalties for such acts, and the relatively low "profit" obtained from orphanages.

Another problem is that when orphanages offer money such as those in Hunan did, one might find women who are willing to have children just to sell to the orphanage. This happened in Yunnan, where forty women in one village had babies to sell to traffickers for 1,600 yuan (lower than what Hunan was paying).


Anonymous said...

Are the names of children who were suspected of being trafficked accessible? Our daughter is from the Changning City SWI.

Anonymous said...

Did you include a full list of suspected orphanages in Guangdong?

Research-China.Org said...

There is no list of trafficked children, as the finding documentation was usually fabricated. Thus, without getting good access to the orphanage records (written or memories) it will be difficult to know.

There are several orphanages in Guangdong that have "suspicious" adoption patterns, but that will be a story for another day.

I will be away from the internet for Thursday and Friday (vacationing in Yellowstone), but will moderate all comments when I am back in civilization.


Anonymous said...

"If they were sold willignly then it is the birth parents who are the bad guys here to me."

hmm...have you ever lived hand to mouth? I would suggest you visit rural China when you are there adopting your child, and I don't mean visiting a village your guide arranges for you to visit 15 minutes outside of Nanchang or Guangzhou, then you might understand how a birth parent could be lured into selling a child for what we would consider a pitance. You might then reconsider who the "bad guys" are or at least expand the pool of "bad guys".

Anonymous said...

As a Canadian, I am really disturbed that our government just continues to allow kids to enter our country and stamps the papers with little concern for accuracy.
If this child who entered Canada was trafficked (which is obvious) then how many other children have also come to our country under illegal circumstances.

~also I need to say thank you to the brave parent who even came forward to disclose this personal but crucial information about her child~

Why is the blame continually shifted towards the sending country, when the receiving countries are equally as guilty?

Canada is still allowing for adoptions from Vietnam as well, even after the U.S. information!

What really disturbs me is even when brought to our government’s attention they still blow it off.

I guess it is just another issue that does not make the "budget".

Shame shame on Canada and any other country that fails to police these programs!

French Marianne said...

Would you be interested in some information/figures regarding Xuwen SWI (Guangdong)? I have some elements I can forward to you. (Hope you had had a good vacation in Yellowstone). Best regards.

Unknown said...


Your figures for Yongzhou are a little misleading. Since there was an umbrella arrangement for a number of other orphanages under Yongzhou up until (I think) mid-2006. So the figures for Dao County, Jiangyong, Lanshan, Lenshuitan, Ningyuan, Qiyang and Shuangpai should all be added to Yongzhou for 06 and 07 to even out the sending rate from Yongzhou. In which case, it is about on par with most others which saw a peak between 2002-2004.

In your opinion, are the peaks only due to trafficking? Or was there a natural confluence of IA orphanges being up to speed and abandonment rates prior to the campaigns to keep girl babies.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian, Regarding the references to a Changsha orphanage in the newspaper articles dating from 2005, how do you know this orphanage to be Changsha#1 and not #2, or Changsha city? Do you assume that it is #1 because the adoption numbers there resemble those of the orphanages that were known to be trafficking children? or because it was the only orphanage doing a significant number of international adoptions?

Do you have a reference for the story about baby trafficking in the Yunnan village that you mention in your comment above?

Thank you for following this story, as far as I know you are the only one who is doing so. The adoption agencies, adoptee's home country governments and the Chinese have either run from it, ignored it or covered it up. Our daughter was adopted from Changsha #1 in July 2005 (birth date late 2003). If I read the numbers correctly, the probability is fairly high (between a 1 in two to 2 in three) that she was a trafficked child since the order of the increase in numbers for children adopted from that orphanage between 2001 and 2005 is on the order of double to triple the pre-scandal numbers. Would that be your assessment? Also, do you have the numbers for 1995-1999? Finally, what is the source of your data? Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Brian -
We have a daughter adopted from Changsha #2 in 2005. All of her paperwork stated she was from Changsha #1. Her surname "Gui" gave her away as a #2 girl, though. And she was from there, we visited #2. From your stats, no children were adopted from #2 except in 2001. In fact, numerous babies funneled into #1 from #2 in 2004 and 2005 for IA. Granted, not enough to explain the bubble at #1. My question is: do other orphanages approved for IA run babies from orphanages not approved for IA (like Changsha #2)? You can see that this practice does distort the numbers.

Anonymous said...

Excellent story, the numbers don't lie. From reports I have read there are now very few infants/young children in the orphange my daughter is from (one of the Hunan SWIs implicated). No other way to explain the dramatic decrease then to realize that babies were being trafficked in for the purpose of IA.

I so loved the Director when I met him, he seemded like such a kind, caring man. My daughter, at 11 months, obviously knew him and liked him, her face lit up whenever she saw him. Every bone in my body wants to believe that he sought more children for IA to use the money to improve conditions at his SWI for the other children. But that seems like such a naive thought.

When you read the other China sites, so many perspective parents refuse to believe that abandonment of NSN infants is down, and that domestic adoptions are on the increase, thus limiting the number of infants available. I feel so deeply for these parents who are caught up in the process now, wondering if, not when, a referral will arrive. I think we all need the compassion to put ourselves back in their spot to remembwr how it feels...

I do wonder though - my DH and I sponsor a boy frorm Phillip Hayden Foundation. We have sponsored him almost from birth. His SN is he is missing half an arm. That's it. We have received many powerpoints featuring him, and he is obviously happy and healthy every other way. He is now almost 4. Why hasn't this charming little boy been adopted through the SN program???

I think there are some (how many???) NSN and SN children who never make it on to the IA list.

Anyway, thanks again for explaining the Hunan story is such a concise, understandable way.

Gershom Kaligawa said...

This is an excellent blog, I am linking it if you don't mind.

Research-China.Org said...


There are many cases of non-IA orphanages funnelling children to IA orphanages. One example is the Linchuan (Fuzhou #2) orphanage that processes children through the Fuzhou orphanage in Jiangxi, or the Kaiping orphanage in Guangdong moving kids to the Jiangmen orphanage. The impact, however, is usally insignificant. Changsha was not just implicated by rising adoption numbers, but also witnesses to the program.

There are of course going to be rational explanations on an individual basis, and that is why sweeping generalizations shouldn't be made. But by and large, orphanages with significant increases bear scrutiny.


Research-China.Org said...

Most orphanages saw peaks in 2002 and 2003, and overall adoption numbers decreased after that time. Obviously if anyone has infromation regarding specific orphanages that might explain their increases/decreases, that will give us more insight into the individual stories. I welcome those perspectives.

I don't lay a lot of blame on receiving countries policing teh paperwork of adoptions, because it is very diffcult (especially in the case of China) to do any reasonable amount of investigation. But once trouble is revealed, I do agree that receiving countries should do more to make sure the problems are fixed. If that involves stopping a program, then that should happen. Criticism of tghe U.S. State Department by families is counter-productive. Waiting families usually have a natural impulse to minimize the extent of problems, and to criticize any official actions taken. The pattern is Vietnam is well-known to readers of this blog, and it is very unlikely it is a small problem.

It is much like mice in house: If you see one, you can bet there are ten more you don't see.


Anonymous said...

"Most orphanages saw peaks in 2002 and 2003, and overall adoption numbers decreased after that time."

Brian-When we were in Guangxi in April 2003 to adopt our daughter-one of our guides said the government had just relaxed the rules re. domestic adoption so that a family who had given birth to one child could also now adopt a baby. This young woman later told me this was something she was interested in doing because that was one way she could have 2 children and to quote her"they would have each other".

Is 2003 when China opened up domestic adoption officially? This would seem to correspond with your statement re. most orphanages reaching a peak around that time before decreasing-while there was a continuous increase in applications from abroad.

Research-China.Org said...

The change in adoption policy occurred in 2001, but it certainly had an impact on domestic adoption demand. It could very well explain part of the decrease in availability of children after 2003 as more families became interested in adopting a second child.


Anonymous said...

Why do you assume that the trafficked children would have been kept by their birth parents or extended family? Before the abandonment rate decreased, loads of babies were abandoned - really abandoned - why would these not have been?

Secondly, I don't want to deny the probable reality behind your research, but to be watertight you need to look at other possibilities. Changning was in temporary accommodation and then closed during a large part of the period during which the adoption figures increased. Might that not be an increased push to adoption due to lack of accommodation. May adoption figures not be decreasing now due to the abandonment rate going down and most of the kids in the orphanage being special needs?
The other thing I ponder is the correlation between trafficking and improved care of the children. For example, in 2001 Changning had a few kids fostered, but most were in the orphanage with limited care. In 2006 when I visited the orphanage was closed, about to open soon, and all the kids were in foster care.

French Marianne said...

I have one question.
How come that 'new' orphanages seem to continue to open to IA? Should not occur if there are really less and less children to be placed internationaly? A friend of mine just had her referral for a little 7 months old boy from Shu Xiong (Yunnan). And we can not find any information about this orphage.
Do you have any info?
Best regards.

Research-China.Org said...

New orphanages are added to bring in additional children for adoption, the very thing one would expect if abandonment numbers are decreasing. There is no barrier for an orphanage to join the IA program -- all are encouraged to do so. However, the orphanage must meet minimum standards of care, and many don't see the strong need to go through the "hoops".


Anonymous said...

Brian, you say that many orphanages don't see the need to jump through hoops. Yet, it is obvious that $3,000-$5,000 is ALOT of money in China and lends itself to corruption on a grand scale. What are the "hoops" that make $5,000 per child "not worth it."

Why is it that these orphanages find caring for hundreds of children with minimal funds easier than coming up to standards? And yet other orphanages are trafficking kids to keep the money flowing?

Research-China.Org said...

All of the orphanages I have visited that are not in the IA program nevertheless have waiting families ready to adopt the healthy children, and therefore see few reasons to join the IA program. Of course, if an orphanage had a significant number of SN children, it would be advantageous to jump through the hoops.

Those in the IA program have the advantage of having to demand pools they can work to satisfying: Domestic families and IA families. Thus, since the demand always exceeds supply in that situation, the incentive to purchase children from families or traffickers is strong.

I wonder on what evidence people continue to believe that there are orphanages caring for "hundreds" of healthy children? If such an orphanage exists, it is only caring for children in the process of being adopted. I have stated this before: Locate an orphanage with children older than two years old that are healthy and unadopted, and I will eat my words. Until that happens, all of the evidence points to a true shortage (if that is the right term) of healthy children in China's orphanages, whether they are in the IA program or not.


Anonymous said...

Thank You,

"All of the evidence points to a true shortage (if that is the right term) of healthy children in China's orphanages"

The proper term is "we are pleased to report a continual reduction in the abandonment rate of infant children in rual areas due to increased economic prosperity, coupled with a growing cultural acceptance of domestic adoption, that has resulted in fewer healthy children available in China's orphanage system available for IA.

Anonymous said...

Thank You,

"All of the evidence points to a true shortage (if that is the right term) of healthy children in China's orphanages"

The proper term is "we are pleased to report a continual reduction in the abandonment rate of infant children in rual areas due to increased economic prosperity, coupled with a growing cultural acceptance of domestic adoption, that has resulted in fewer healthy children available in China's orphanage system available for IA.


Is there a way to know if a child is from Fuzhou "2" or Fuzhou "1" in Jiangxi

Research-China.Org said...

Children transferred from Fuzhou (Linchuan #2) to Fuzhou #1 are given the middle name of "Chuan".


Amy said...

It strikes me as strange that the Chinese government would not allow a couple to give birth to 2 children but does allow the adoption of a second child. I would think in some ways this fuels the selling of children for domestic adoption. The demand for domestic adoption may be up due to the desire for a legal way to have a second child who can be registered. The choice is one child by birth or two if one is adopted. Now when there were many children leaving the country for IA this was a way to encourage children to be adopted in China but with a decrease in children in orphanages it seems to me that it is more incentive to keep the system going no matter if it is IA or domestic adoption.

Anonymous said...

Is this your Expose'on the corruption?

Research-China.Org said...

No, actually it is ABC's. My expose would appear here, on this blog.

ABC did a good job, in the space and time they were willing to commit, to showing the fundamental issues and conflicts in China, which center on the domestic and international demand exceeding the supply of available children. To increase profitability, orphanages are seeking children from families in their areas.

Fuzhou, while the largest IA orphanage in China (over 300 children every year adopted internationally) is not the only orphanage in that area, nor is Changde. But ABC's article should bring much-needed attention to the core issues.


Anonymous said...

How did Fuzhou get to be the biggest IA SWI?

Do they have a tough local government that really enforces the one child policy or do they bring in from a larger rural area?

Research-China.Org said...

Isn't the answer to that question obvious?

In conversations I have had with
residents in Fuzhou I have learned that they have been offering money
for over 5 years, and have had to increase the "reward" repeatedly to
keep the supply of children coming in. When I asked one resident why
they were increasing the amount paid, they stated that it was because the Family Planning officials had been so successful in convincing families to have only one child, that there were few unwanted children being abandoned. Thus, to keep the supply of children coming in, the orphanage has increased their payments from 200 yuan to 2,500 yuan over the past three years.


Anonymous said...

Brian, why would you assume that the birth families would keep their babies if there wasn't a market to sell them? If they're unwanted, they're unwanted. Period.

I wonder where the kids will end up if they're unwanted and there's no friend or relative to take them in. I suppose the birth parents might abandon them and maybe a few will be lucky (not die of exposure) and eventually find their way to an orphanage and get adopted. Personally, I think the "broker" made the process much less risky to the unwanted child. As long as the babies aren't being stolen, I don't really care that a few people were paid along the way. Sure, it's not pretty but the bottom line (to me) is what is ultimately best for the child.


Anonymous said...

are you implying that in fuzhou area, parents are having children over quota to sell to the SWI, instead of obeying the family planning policy??

Research-China.Org said...

Donne, the world is not that black and white. If they would be abandoned anyway, you wouldn't see the adoption rates increase in the orphanages offering rewards. Obviously offering the rewards INCREASES abandonments. And it is not a simple "unwanted is unwanted". When a poor family is offered more than a year's income for anything, it presents new options that they may not have considered before.


Research-China.Org said...


I am not implying what is happening in Fuzhou. All I am saying is that abandonments were declining, apparently due to Family Planning enforcement, and in response the orphanage increased the reward offered for children. One would have to talk to individual birth parents to determine how that increased reward impacted them.


Chew/VintageUte said...

There is an excellent article in the November, 2007 issue of Mother Jones (and later picked up the the LA Times) by an adoptive mother and journalist Elizabeth Larsen. I met her at an ethics conference in D.C, and she is amazingly insightful, warm, and intelligent. It's a wonderful read, especially for any AP dealing with the plague of worry and moral inventory that is now accompanying adoptions from countries "under scrutiny". I've read it at least three times now, and come away with something different with each read. Here's the link:


Anonymous said...

Brian, you said: "If they would be abandoned anyway, you wouldn't see the adoption rates increase in the orphanages offering rewards."

You *would* see adoption rates increase in orphanages offering rewards because fewer children would be abandoned on the side of the road (or elsewhere) and die before ever reaching the orphanage. Fewer dead abandoned babies means more kids at the SWI. It could also be argued that fewer would be killed at birth if parents had the option to covertly hand them over to someone who would take them to the SWI.

It's not like these kids are being kidnapped and sold to orphanages. For various reasons, the birth family can't keep the child and these so-called "purchased" babies are merely being escorted to the SWI instead of being disposed of in more traditional ways.


Research-China.Org said...


Your thesis is unprovable, and I have seen no evidence that it would lead to the type of increases the orphanages see. But, like all complicated issues, it is possible that your ideas come into play occasionally.


Anonymous said...

The other, and I think more likely possibility is that the babies would be handed over to other types of traffickers, for good or for ill. Trafficking of children seems to be an enormous problem in China. The NY Times has reported on traffickers who take children for forced labor - some of those kids were lured away or kidnapped, but some were sold by their families. Families may prefer selling babies to the SWI, thinking they have a chance at international adoption, but without that option, what other types of brokers might they consider?

Research-China.Org said...

I find it interesting that adoptive families are so quick to rationalize illegal activities on the part of orphanages. Either the children would be abandoned anyway and die, or they will be sold to traffickers and put into labor camps. Thus, we comfort ourselves into believing that buying babies from BPs is OK, and should not be stopped.

The overwhelming majority of children are neither abandoned or trafficked -- rather they are transferred to family or friends who are seeking a first or second child. This "friend-to-friend" transferring is probably 95% or more of the outcome of unwanted children.

It is from this market that the reward systems offered by orphanages draw -- from families that are not interested in selling their children to traffickers (they would get more money if they did so), but are drawn by the reward to not simply give their child to a friend. Thus, I believe the reward system pulls children from the local communities and puts them in the IA program. Additionally, there is the very real probability (it has happened before) that women will view the reward as substantial enough to have a baby just to turn over to the orphanage. Thus, there is the very real possibility that orphans are being created to satisfy the IA program.

Families can continue viewing these events as "single trees in the forest," but eventually the adoption community will come to face the reality that this kind of brokering is wide-spread and ingrained in the system.


Anonymous said...

So you think this problem is not part of the overall problem with trafficking of children in China? Why do you think that? It is really hard for us adoptive parents to know. News stories like the ABC story tend to lump the finding fees at the orphanages with the overall problem of trafficking and kidnapping children. But you seem to think this is a separate thing - families that would have not abandoned at all, or who would have simply passed their children to friends or relatives? What is your evidence? And why does the news media then tend to conflate the two issues?

Research-China.Org said...

There are various levels at which one could look at this issue. On a macro level, the orphanages are part of the trafficking problem because they are drawing their children from the same pool as baby-brokers (traffickers) do: families with under-desired children (I won't say "unwanted" because I feel some of these kids may be wanted, just not to the extent that one would normally think of -- they are willing to part with a child for money).

Now when one gets beneath the surface, shades begin to appear. There might be families unwilling to sell their child to a stranger, but might feel comfortable doing so to the government. It might be the case that the family is uncertain what to do until approached by the doctor and told he can arrange an adoption and pay the family. Thus, there are many subsets in the population, some of which will respond to the reward programs put in by orphanages.

The point is that the orphanages represent another voice for abandonment of children. Whether it is the gate-keeper approaching people on the street, or the employees hunting for families in their villages, or the doctors that approach families about to have babies, asking if they are "disappointed" the baby is a girl, the offering of money will draw families into giving up a child that may have not been given up at all, or that may have been "adopted" to another family.


Anonymous said...

Back in 2004, when I started looking into adopting from China, I was shocked that so many birth families could find it in their heart to discard their unwanted baby girls. After doing a bunch of reading on that subject, I came to understand that life in the USA is privileged and our moral code can't be applied to the families in China who face obstacles we'll never have to face. Bottom line: They do what they have to do to survive.

What we sensationalize with the label of "baby trafficking" is something much less sinister. These kids aren't being pulled from the aching arms of parents who desperately want to keep them and I seriously doubt that many Chinese women would carry a baby for 9 months, risk being discovered, labor and give birth to that child and sell it for a pittance. There are much easier things to do for 9 months that almost certainly pay better.

I appreciate this discussion and the effort you've put into gathering information. But I also understand that you can't really know what "most" families with unwanted babies do with those children. If I know anything about Chinese people, it's that they're proud and private. Even if some are willing to talk to you about something so personal, you can't apply what they say to the entire population. Instead, you have to look at what is likely or reasonable for them to do in various circumstances.

If you understand human behavior, you know that oppressed people tend to avoid risk especially when the penalties for breaking rules are exceptionally severe. It's understandable that many opt to kill their baby rather than risk leaving her in a safe/public place where she can be found. If there's a way to bridge the gap between the desperate parent and the safe-haven of the SWI, I'm all for it. Given the circumstances, I really don't consider this to be morally objectionable.

We can't apply our moral code to what is happening to the children in China. It's not about the money or the broker. It's about the children and I'm still unconvinced that all or most of the children the SWI's pay for would be alive without the financial incentive the orphanages offer.

Obviously, I draw the line at stealing babies from parents but I've not seen any report that it's happening that way.


Anonymous said...

You wrote
~What we sensationalize with the label of "baby trafficking" is something much less sinister. These kids aren't being pulled from the aching arms of parents who desperately want to keep them and I seriously doubt that many Chinese women would carry a baby for 9 months, risk being discovered, labor and give birth to that child and sell it for a pittance. There are much easier things to do for 9 months that almost certainly pay better~

I wonder how sure you are that ‘these kids’ aren’t being taken against the will of their parents? Have you read anything about the issues found in Vietnam? Anyone who feels China is removed from similar issues such as Vietnam is sadly mistaken. My fear actually is that China has far worse human rights violations and child trafficking in the IA program and overall. Babies are being trafficked into China to fill the black market demand… babies that we have possibly been taking out of their population.

If you have not done so yet, please read about Vietnam and what has been found going on there.
Babies have been taken from parents. They have been tricked and coerced into giving a child up thinking it was temporary and then devastated when they find out that they were adopted abroad.
Imagine the nightmare when these parents now fight for their children’s return. The heartbreak that the adoptive families will endure and the trauma that the child will once again feel.

If this can be prevented, then why don’t we press for that?
We can’t press to keep the China program going only to find this same situation, we need to make sure this is not the situation and if it is, it needs to stop.

And if your comeback is that Vietnam is a whole other program, a different program, I agree. I also feel it is one set up with ‘more’ safeguards than that of the China program.

Who makes sure kids are not stolen in the China program? Who’s watching each orphanage? There are no requirements for parent’s signatures, just a finder who offers his/her name and a fingerprint at the very most.
Is this finder found in the records of the orphanage over and over and if so, does anyone bother to ask why?
Or just justify that they must work in the area and find kids all the time.
No way could they be a trafficker making their living off of this program.

I am not sure how anyone could explain that most kids are found very close to the orphanage and many times right at the gate. If abandoning a child in China is illegal and people are as scared as we have been told, why is it they walk right up to an orphanage gate with gatekeepers present and just drop their child off?

As for your comment on the money being a “pittance”. Go talk to a rural family in China (majority where our kids are coming from) who make 2000 Yuan per year and ask them if 3000 Yuan is a “pittance”. You may actually find out that to them it is the equivalent to a yearly income or more.

And no I would not relinquish my child for a years income, however I have never lived in their circumstances so I have no idea what my choice would be if I were them and living their lives.

I also appreciate Brian’s information and effort he contributes. Without his information and advocacy, we would have nothing to offer balance or another side. No one else is watching this program and I would even wager that the CCAA looks at his numbers with interest. Coincidentally they are now beginning to transfer files and numbers into a central database. Could this be because they have never really had the opportunity to view their program as a whole and now that another person is, it makes them nervous when they are questioned and they fail to come up with appropriate figures?

Media, adoptive families, birth families and advocacy groups come to Brian. People rely on him because there is NO ONE ELSE out there! I am sure one day our kids will also trust in him to get information that they have never been given.

You can either be for transparency or against, if you claim that you are for an ethical transparent program, stop working so hard to disclaim what you hear. Listen, try and understand and then work towards a positive change. Even if that change is to help keep kids with their families in China, domestic adoption in China, or even long term fostering in China. All of these things should come first before a child leaves a country and a culture.

Our children deserve accurate details and not fabricated information. They deserve to know the details that the orphanage has had access to and in many cases this is the name of their birth family.

I am all for an adoption plan, even if it means money to get the child safely into the orphanage. I am against deception and in no way feel we can justify this.

Our rights as adoptive parents come behind the rights of the child and their birth family.

You draw the line at stealing babies; I draw the line at trafficking, coercing, soliciting and fraud.


Anonymous said...

"If abandoning a child in China is illegal and people are as scared as we have been told, why is it they walk right up to an orphanage gate with gatekeepers present and just drop their child off?"

Because the laws aren't enforced. Many children are left at the orphanage gate. But from most of the finding ads in my city....they are left at a street corner, a crowded bus or train station, or at the market place and the police are called and they bring them to the orphanage.

It's my experience that most have a special need. Also some are sick or need surgery and have gotten treatment at the hospital, the parents are out of money, so they just don't come back.

I have an eight year old right now. This is her story and she was 6 when it happen. Pam in Henan

Samantha Franklin said...

Just came across your blog today and am intrigued. Thanks so much for writing about such an important issue.
(an adult adoptee in reunion)

Anonymous said...

My daughter who is so such a beautiful child now at the age of 11 - was adopted at the age of 2.
She was in Hengshan orphanage, Hunan province. She came home in 2002.
However, she was born cleft affected.
Special needs children were not victims of trafficking. Right?

Research-China.Org said...

I have not seen any evidence of trafficking in SN children before 2005. After the CCAA pushed orphanages for any kids in 2006, however, the story seems to have changed. Today, there is evidence that SN children are also being obtained through "less than ethical" methods.


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an important Blog! I have 2 Hunan adopted children, right in the heart of the scandal... not sure if or when I will tell these girls they may not have been found where there adoption papers say, or that they were basically a monthly salary for someone. What a heartbreaking conversation I'll need to have someday, probably sooner rather than later, before a jerk at their school shows it to them to hurt them... However my questions are: Are you sure that the Hunan scandal was not statistically a relocation of children from non-paying orphanages to high-paying orphanages? Next, how was Ms. Liang originally being compensated for the 40 or so children she was raising in her house, before Duan started buying the children to send them to Hunan orphanages? Finally, do the orphanages in other providences, especially near Beijing give payments to "the finder" of the baby (exclude the older children for purposes of this question)?

Anonymous said...


Anything new to report on Hunan adoptions? I'm particularly interested in Changsha SWI 1 and Changsha SWI 2.

Do you think that birth parents of SN kids (say, minor cleft, albinism) are in some cases more likely to relinquish their newborn if offered money or do you think that most of the parents that relinquish these (minor) SN children would be relinquishing/abandoning them anyway?

Thank you!

Research-China.Org said...

It is hard to be certain, since so few birth parents have been located. But we did locate a bp of a SN (ear deformity) where the "finder" lied to the birth family to get them to relinquish. This bp regretted what happened to their daughter (being adopted overseas), but it is impossible to know what they would have done differently.