Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Experts Respond to "The Baby Business"

The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism asked "adoption professionals" to respond to the publication of E.J. Graff's "The Baby Business", published in the Summer 2010 journal "Democracy: A Journal of Ideas".

While many of the responses are predictable (JCICS, the mouthpiece of the adoption agencies, downplays adoption corruption with this rationalization: "Unfortunately, in virtually every human endeavor, isolated individuals use human suffering for their own advancement. This can be seen in banking, commerce, and human services."), some, such as PEAR's, offer a broader recognition of the problems of corruption.

Any discussion of corruption in international adoption must, of necessity, address the problems one sees in China, an area that E.J. Graff practically ignores in her studies. Of the respondents, only PEAR references stories of corruption in China's program. Given that China is the single largest source of children in international adoption (accounting for 3,000 of the 12,700 international adoptions into the U.S. in 2009), a refusal to address allegations of widespread corruption in that country leaves a gaping hole in Graff's study, as well as the responses.

It is now clear to all but the most ardent defenders of China's adoption program that corruption episodes such as those seen in Hunan, Guizhou, Jiangxi and other Provinces are not "isolated events", but systemic issues. Orphanage adoption records for the six Hunan scandal orphanages, for example, prove that almost EVERY child adopted from those orphanages between 2000 and 2005 were obtained through trafficking. Testimony of participants in that story, as well as those involved in such programs today, show that these programs started in many areas as early as 1995, when less than 3,000 children were being adopted from China world-wide. As demand for Chinese infants increased to over 6,000 in 2000, many orphanages instituted all-out baby-buying programs. In Jiangxi Province, China's largest adopting Province, over 80% of all adoptions originate in orphanages displaying evidence of baby-buying and Family Planning confiscations.

E.J. Graff, as well as most of the respondents, focus on the domestic side of the problem -- agency directors and employees, in-country-liaisons, etc. The presumption is that while the countries themselves seek to operate ethically, isolated players within the system might participate in unethical behavior. The Hague Agreement is touted as the safety mechanism for abuse, and a push is made to get all adoptions to comply with Hague guarantees.

Unfortunately, the Hague Agreement is only effective if the ratifying countries take it seriously. Considerable evidence suggests that many don't. For all its professions of ‘subsidiarity’, transparency and verifiability, the Hague Agreement is powerless to do anything to enforce these principles. As the Dutch Parliament hearings showed, it is all built on a foundation of trust. If a sending country like China is untrustworthy, there is little receiving countries can do except terminate adoption agreements, something that receiving countries are reticent to do.

And why are they reticent? Because at the end of the day adoption is, as Graff aptly names her study, about "the baby business." The voices for the status quo are loud and numerous; the voices for ethics and reform few and easily drowned out. The political constituency for continuing a corrupt program often includes waiting families, adoption professionals, and religious activists who see adoption, even if conducted under clouds of corruption and abuse, as ultimately better for the child. The political realities include trade agreements, economic benefits, and political goodwill. With such powerful forces on the side of perpetuating a "working" program, voices of alarm and experience are quickly drowned out and labeled as outsiders to be ignored.

As I wrote in the midst of China's Hunan scandal,
“Maybe I expect a perfect system, one in which no one’s rights are infringed upon, and where the children are always prioritized. A system where the governments, agencies and adoptive families think first what is best for the child, and second what is best for them. A system where an orphanage director would never willingly encourage or force a birth family to relinquish their child, and adoptive families would never participate if they suspected such things were happening.” In the five years since that day I realize that such a expectation is in all likelihood unreasonable.


Unknown said...

Which orphanages again? "Orphanage adoption records for the six Hunan scandal orphanages, for example, prove that almost EVERY child adopted from those orphanages between 2000 and 2005 were obtained through trafficking."

Research-China.Org said...

The six orphanages involved in the Hunan scandal were the Changning, Hengdong, Hengnan, Hengshan, Hengyang and Qidong orphanages.


Pam said...

Was it ever an issue in the the Guandong province? My daughter is from LeChang City located in the northern part.

Research-China.Org said...

There are orphanages in Guangdong known to have trafficked, but I haven't looked into LeChang so can't speak to that specific one.


Anonymous said...

Very well said Brian. It's very clear that the work of EJ Graff has intentionally avoided China. Many (even APs in the China community) have questioned this. Years back the China program was used as a model program for many of the advocacy groups. The reformers held on to the China program as evidence of how a clean program could work. If reformers admit that the China program is as deeply corrupt as it is, then they must also admit that they were very wrong and their theories were nothing more than fantasy as is EJ's work in this latest article. The Hague Convention is useless because they have no ability to investigate inside of China. The CCAA acts as a shield/barrier to truth and transparency.
Yes it's clear that the China program is corrupt and functions well below international laws however it's also become clear that politicians and governments are powerless when it comes to dealing with this issue and therefore tip-toe around the topic of trafficking as carefully as possible.
EJ has worked hard to raise awareness about trafficking for adoption in her various articles but she has fallen short on the largest supplier of children abroad. Many have continued to question why based on the evidence to the contrary. Could it be due to the fact that China adoption hits too close to home on a personal level with staff at the Schuster Institute??

Anonymous said...

"religious activists who see adoption, even if conducted under clouds of corruption and abuse, as ultimately better for the child"

Who are those religious activits? Could you be more specific?


Research-China.Org said...

There are hundreds of religious blogs and websites that discuss adoption from a "Christian" point of view. To point out specific ones would only incite members of that community. My point is that when allegations of corruption arise, the general reaction is that they can be overlooked since the adoptions were "God's plan", and the children are better of in a religious home. This sentiment can be seen frequently. A good place to start is a Google blog-search of "Christian China Adoption".


Anonymous said...

There are all sorts of cases in history where religious groups (Christians) have used their own belief system to justify their evils. Below are a few examples of those who were caught. I am sure there are many others.





Anonymous said...

I believe that to clean up international adoption you need to remove the money but that would just result in an expansion of the domestic black market. The same would happen if IA was suspended. It may make foreigners feel better but would that really be an improvement for the children?

There are a lot of vested interests and a lot of naivity but it is also naive to believe that the problem can be solved without a top-to-bottom clean up of Chinese governance and society.

Let's get it as clean as it can be knowing the limits of what is achievable.

Anonymous said...

It's telling that the report skips China- it would be interesting to know the real reasons why.
If adoptive parents would start taking their heads out of the sand, the system would have to at least consider reforming. Unfortunately from my experience no one wants to do that, because they would have to admit they were at least indirectly part of trafficking by creating the higher demand for babies.

Donna said...

I've always thought that the orphanage donation fee should be paid to CCAA and not placed directly into the hands of the orphanage director by the adoptive parents. The money should be used to improve the quality of life for the kids at the SWI so I've always wondered why CCAA didn't collect it and equally distribute it to all of the orphanages that participate in IA. I wonder why CCAA didn't do it this way? Surely they had to know what would happen? Especially since it's widely known that corruption is a fact of life in China.

Still, I would hope that anyone who looks at the word "trafficking" doesn't assume it always means that babies were kidnapped and sold to orphanages. I'd like to know what exactly counts as "trafficking". I've read many stories about small monetary enticements that were paid to birth families to encourage them to leave their unwanted children with an agent of the SWI instead of other options that almost always result in the death of the infant.


Mei-Ling said...

"I'd like to know what exactly counts as "trafficking"."

I thought it was referring to the exchange of giving up one's child under monetary or physical threat.

Or, in the case of parents who want a boy, give up their girl child to an investigator who is trying to obtain children to sent for overseas adoption.

Ethel said...

Do you know what orphanges in Guangdong are known to have been involved in trafficing?

Research-China.Org said...

We will be looking at Guangdong Province in our Provincial analysis on our subscription blog. Up next on that blog is Hunan Province. One can get information on specific orphanages by ordering our Birth Parent Analysis, which goes into very deep detail about an orphanage.


Shari said...

I think often people consider trafficking to be children to be stolen and then adopted without the parent's knowledge or consent.

In the case of China, I consider trafficking to be parents being enticed by a small amount of money and the promise that their child will have a "better" life. Those "finding" the child are then given more money by the SWI and the SWI even a greater amount by the adopting parent.

Children are moved from one province to another making it hard to track the money trail or determine where they were actually born.