Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Promises, Promises!!

Last night's CBS story on Ethiopia brought me a feeling of deja vu, for such stories are found frequently in China's adoption program as well. The following article is taken from our subscription blog, but has been modified to protect the families involved.


There is one characteristic of parenting common to all of us. It is so strong, that parents will sometimes give up their child in order to fulfill this desire. In poor areas, this impulse is particularly strong.

It is the desire that a child have a better life than its parents.

While much is spoken about the financial payments involved in many orphanage programs, a lessor-known program involves no money, but a simple promise: That a child will be provided a rich family to raise it, that the child will be given a great education, resulting in a successful life. This promise, often combined with promises of a "returning child", is a very strong incentive for any loving parent, but especially a parent that views such "blessings" as impossible to provide themselves.

We recently did a birth parent search in Luoyang City, Henan Province. Luoyang is the largest adopting orphanage in Henan Province, having submitted over a 100 children for adoption in 2008. My wife and I had visited Luoyang in late 2004 to perform finding location research for a group of families, and one family with a child adopted from Luoyang wanted us to return to search for their daughter's birth family.

The orphanage had told the adoptive family that their daughter had been found as a three-week old infant in a local park. Given the age and finding location, it was assumed that locating the birth family would prove difficult, but the adoptive family wanted to proceed anyway. The adoptive family did have the name of their daughter's foster family, who had taken care of their daughter from the time that she arrived in the orphanage until she was adopted at almost four years old.

We decided to begin our research with the foster family. We arranged a meeting, unknown to the orphanage, and started our interview by asking if they had any information about where "Dang Mei Mei" had been found. The foster father looked confused for a second, and then said something that stunned my wife and me:

"She wasn't abandoned; she is our daughter."

"How is that possible?", we asked. We asked them to tell us their story.

When their daughter was three years old (not a few weeks as the adoptive family had been told), the foster father had been approached by a friend of the family, the local Civil Affairs director. He invited the foster father to lunch, and after getting some small-talk out of the way, informed the father that he (the director) had a connection with an orphanage in another city. This orphanage adopted children to the West, and these children were raised by Western families, were given good educations, and were thus insured a happy and prosperous life. "I wanted to tell you, that I can arrange for your daughter to be adopted to the West. Also, once she is grown, she will return to China to find you, and will then take care of you in your old age."

The father didn't know what to say, so he promised his friend he would get back to him. He returned home and told his wife what he had been told. After lengthy discussions, they concluded (against their daughter's maternal grandmother's wishes) to bring their daughter the six hours to Luoyang.

The birth family was very excited when we found them again. When we asked them why they hadn't told the adoptive family the true nature of their relationship before, the father said simply, "Because we knew they would not have adopted our daughter if we had." They also asked when the adoptive family would be able to bring their daughter back to see them. The conversation gave us to believe that the family felt that the adoption arrangement was temporary, and that in reality the girl still belonged to them. They viewed it as they would a grand-parent arrangement so common in China, engaging in it to provide resources and opportunities the parents couldn't provide themselves.

When we told the family that in the vast majority of cases the children will never be able to find their birth family, and that the orphanage had lied to the adoptive family about their daughter's history to prevent the adoptive family from ever finding the birth family, it dawned on the family that they had been deceived. While they are lucky that they were found, most birth families will wait patiently for a day of reunification that will never come.

It is doubtful that adoptive families are prepared to learn that their child's birth family relinquished their child simply to have them raised in an affluent lifestyle, but with no understanding that the birth families are expecting their child to one day leave the adoptive family to return to China and reunify with the birth family. Thus, Luoyang's program also deceives adoptive families, placing an emotional time-bomb into the adoptive family's relationships that will one day detonate into severe trouble and confusion, especially in the adoptive child.

I can't tell you how livid I was to learn of Luoyang's program, and its potentially devastating impact on both biological and adoptive families. More distressing still is the realization that such programs are common, and used by many orphanages to recruit children for their international adoption programs. Consider this story told by one adoptive mother who adopted from an orphanage that has a program similar to Luoyang's:

While in China on their adoption in Jiangxi Province, the adoptive mother asked her guide if orphanages pay for children: "He said that women (families) are told that if they give the child to the SWI they will send the baby to America where she will grow up in a rich family - and when the girl grows up she will be educated and wealthy and she will come looking for her real family. She will come back to China and take care of them. When orphanage directors get together they ask each other if they have put their own granddaughter up for IA - and then they ask if the granddaughter has come back yet to make them rich. Then they all laugh...that was the punchline. This joke has nothing to do with saving children from being left on the side of the road in a box. . . ."

A few months ago we contacted a Jiangxi director about the change in directors at the CCAA, and in the course of that conversation she told us that last August the CCAA began a new program in "one of the Jiangxi orphanages" whereby it was broadcast to local families that if they were poor, or had only a single parent, etc., they could bring their child to the orphanage and she would then be adopted to a Western family. It appears that the CCAA, and the Chinese government, in a desperate attempt to keep the engine of international adoption running, is now removing the risk of abandonment and emotionally coercing birth families to give up their children.

One can see probable examples of this program in orphanages in Guangdong, Jiangxi, Guangxi, and other Provinces. Many orphanages in these areas have seen huge spikes in older-child referrals over the past year. Guangzhou, for example, has seen submissions for older, healthy children increase over 600% in 2008.

To those familiar with the adoption programs in Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Ethiopia, Romania, and the rest, China's issues fall into a pattern seen virtually in every country that adopts internationally. Whether it is the offering of money for children, or the simple offering of promises of a bright future for a child and the financial support Western-educated "Lucky" children in the birth parent's old age, many orphanages are still seeking ways to bring more children into the IA program.