Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Old News? Not to the People in China

The news this week that Chinese Family Planning officials had raided a small farming community in rural Hunan Province and confiscated nearly twenty young children has citizens in China understandably outraged (a Baidu search this morning shows over 600 independent postings in various newspapers, websites, and other media). While this news is familiar to attentive people in the West (we publicized it in October 2006, and it was later investigated by Dutch Television and the L.A. Times), aside from a small legal notice published in China, the case was unknown.

Family Planning officials are already despised by most Chinese, due to their ability to blatantly and capriciously impose their will on local families. As the New York Times described it, villages and towns are often "private fiefdoms run by local party officials." This story, in which Family Planning officials confiscated children to "sell" to overseas foreign families through the area orphanage, has ignited a firestorm of outrage in China, most of it directed at the Family Planning establishment.

This anger is largely misdirected. Although the Family Planning officials are certainly guilty of a myriad of sins, the majority of the guilt for these events should be directed at the orphanages themselves.

Most would assume that orphanages in China are set up to care for abandoned children found scattered around the countryside. What is usually overlooked is that with the introduction of international adoption in 1992, fees paid by foreign families has become a substantial source of revenue for China's social welfare program, revenue that is used to build lavish and impressive orphanages and Old Folk's Homes, used to "benefit" local and Provincial authorities, and used to pay the salaries of an entire bureaucratic structure dedicated to international adoptions. Everyone involved in China's international adoption program has an incentive to keep the program going. The payoff is obvious -- for every child adopted by a foreign family, the orphanage receives $5,000 (35,000 yuan) in "donations".

The Gaoping Family Planning confiscations have their roots not in the Family Planning restrictions, but in the Shaoyang orphanage. Area residents reveal that before 2000, Family Planning officials would punish a family for having an overquota child by smashing their furniture or destroying their homes. "Since 2000 they haven't smashed homes. They abduct children," one local resident stated. The change occurred when the orphanage began to reward the Family Planning official who confiscated a child with 1,000 yuan cash. Now, instead of having to expend energy smashing a couch or end table, the officials could simply take the child and be paid nearly a month's salary as a reward.

In 2005, six orphanages in Hunan Province were caught buying babies from area traffickers. Although those six orphanages largely ceased participating in the international adoption program after the exposure, many other orphanages inside China have continued to buy babies from traffickers unimpeded. Press stories by ABC News, the L.A. Times, and others show that buying babies is still prevalent, and statistical analysis reveals that a majority of children adopted from China entered the orphanage through Family Planning confiscations, outright purchase, or through other "incentive" programs. Rather than being safe-havens for unwanted and abandoned children, China's orphanages are more accurately described as businesses, seeking to maximize its benefit like any other profit-seeking enterprise.

China's problems are by no means unique, as similar scandals have been seen in Ethiopia, Guatamala, Vietnam, Romania, and nearly every other sending country on earth. These problems will persist until the "profit-making" structure of international adoption is changed. Until an orphanage can no longer receive substantial cash donations from foreign families for a child that they can obtain for relatively little outlay, enterprising orphanage directors will continue to make "deals with the devil", whether those devils be area baby traffickers or the local Family Planning officials.


Snowflowers Mum said...

expletive expletive double expletive!
now everyone will be looking at Chinese adoptees like they were stolen from their families! I know it happens, I've known for a long time...but I just think of the idiots who read these articles and assume that ALL cases are like this. While 'trafficking' is more common than we would like to believe, please let people know that there WAS and still IS(sn) a need for many adoptions, it's just that eventually each and every humanitarian effort ends in corruption because of the possibility of financial gain. The one child rule and the consequences of breaking that rule was more dramatic before IA was what did they do with over quota children back then? I read 'A mothers ordeal' and it was eye opening. The family planning officials are/were working under direct order of the government, it seems like the SWI Directors need to be held accountable - again.

Anonymous said...

It's becoming obvious that there is a great deal of entitlement with APs. Can you tell me whether the actions and attitudes of APs have hindered future chances for successful relationships with biological families? Will all APs be clumped together and viewed in a negative way now based on how this girls APs have chosen to deal with this? Or how we are being portrayed in the Chinese media?
You mention the many Chinese articles today in the media, what are they saying about us?

OmegaMom said...

Back in 2000, even? Sigh. Any word of other provinces/orphanages that might have been doing the same thing back then, aside from Hunan and Shaoyang?

Research-China.Org said...

There are family planning stories from nearly every orphanage across China. We don't know many details, but such practices are very, very common.


Research-China.Org said...


Reaction on Chinese blogs range from those who feel the children are better off outside China, to those who express anger that these kids were adopted abroad. There is not one single main voice, but a lot of different opinions being expressed.


Anonymous said...

What do you think adoptive parents should do if one of our kids names show up in the news?

Research-China.Org said...

Cooperate with the birth families. It is your moral and ethical obligation. Hiding (as most adoptive families do) only makes matters worse. In the case of Yang Li Bing, for example, he would have been satisfied to have a relationship with the adoptive family, but since they refused he has only grown more angry.


Von said...

While the Chinese may profess to be surprised, that cannot be so.Where there is a lucrative market there will always be those who wish to supply the demand and profit.While we can condemn that, it will in the end be adoptees who suffer.Isn't it those who create the demand who should be held responsible too?

Anonymous said...

To Von:

Do you know ANYTHING about China or the Chinese Adoption process? I've seen your posts on many adoption related blogs and you almost often say the same thing -- that APs are to blame for all of the ills of the adoption process (not to mention screwing up the children for ever and ever) when, in fact, China has millennia old traditions that favor boys, coupled with the strict and often brutally enforced one-child policy that makes many families abandon their infant girls, many of whom end up getting adopted, but so many more of whom never get a chance to get a family whatsoever -- not in China and not anywhere else. The thousands of PAPs who patiently wait in line until the Chinese Center of Adoption Affairs matches them with an abandonded child are not feeding the abandonment frenzy, nor are they doing anything to coerce families into relinquishing their children. Yes, there have been cases, such as the one mentioned in this post where corruption has taken place, but to simply place blame on the APs is wrong and misguided. Better you should storm the gates of the Chinese government and help them understand that maybe the one child policy isn't in the best interest of the children, and that if the children are abandonded anyway, that they should be immediately reunited with the people who abandonded them and be supported in raising the child much like you apparently want the American adoption system completely disbanded and every child returned to his or her birth parent regardless of that person's willingness or wishes to raise the child. If only it were as simple as you seem to portray it. You appear to thing that adoption is vile and all APs are villans, but you are wrong. I hate that you were victimized, but I don't believe that every birth parent who relinquishes a child feels as strongly as you do. Please try to educate yourself on the traditions and policies of China before you make such sweeping accusations.


Anonymous said...


You stated the following, in reference to the families from Gaoping, Hunan:

"Area residents reveal that before 2000, Family Planning officials would punish a family for having an overquota child by smashing their furniture or destroying their homes. "Since 2000 they haven't smashed homes. They abduct children," one local resident stated."

The exact same thing happened in Zhenyuan, starting in 2003 and they started international adoption in 2002:

"Then, in 2003, things changed. The year after the Social Welfare Institute in Zhenyuan was approved to participate in the burgeoning foreign adoption program, family planning officials stopped confiscating farm animals. They started taking babies instead.

"If people couldn't pay their fines, they'd take away their babies," said a retired municipal employee from Zhenyuan who used to work as a foster parent for the orphanage.

These were the only 2 places that got caughter (so far). I'm sure a lot of other SWIs were doing it.


Research-China.Org said...

We have seen similar stories in Guangdong and Jiangxi Provinces, for example, where findings will spike for a few months in an area, and then the Family Planning will receive accolades from the central government for doing such a good job. It is indeed very common.


Anonymous said...

Von, while the AP in me would reject the blame as a knee jerk reaction (it hurts). The reality is that adoption is a demand driven industry. APs and PAPs work very hard to keep programs running and reduce any restriction that may affect their chances. While I do feel the governments on both sending and receiving sides and agencies are much higher on the blame list, I do feel it's the one who hands over money for a human life that holds some blame too.
Humans are not meant to be paid for. It's unnatural to do so and causes these very issues.
So yes, as an AP who paid to adopt, I accept some responsibility in this.
But now that I have witnessed how hard it is to make ethical changes and how unregulated this industry is... I'm much more angry that no action has been taken by various governments.
We can't expect change to come by just blaming one group of people. Our governments need to be held accountable for allowing this to continue.
As this blog shows us, this is not new news. Governments knew about this and looked away.
APs who trusted their governments can also be viewed as victims in this sad situation. If all the victims came together and went after the governments and industry, then perhaps change would happen.

Mei Ling said...

"Better you should storm the gates of the Chinese government and help them understand that maybe the one child policy isn't in the best interest of the children"

I have actually suggested this, many months ago in a discussion about China adoption ethics.

But as was pointed out, there is zero reason for the government to listen to a bunch of foreigners overseas. They don't even listen to their own people. Or so I have been told.

That, and because people can become parents through China's adoption process, why would anyone really want to "force" the government to amend its practices?

So we have 2 issues:

1.) The gov't wouldn't listen. No democracy means no reform.
2.) Prospective parents fear not being able to become parents, although I'd say there is a much bigger problem with #1 than #2.

Any other suggestions? 'Cause I'm not seeing any.

Mei Ling said...

"Reaction on Chinese blogs range from those who feel the children are better off outside China, to those who express anger that these kids were adopted abroad."


Let's take the focus off the adoptive parents for a minute. Adoptions happen because of limb defects, family planning authorities, cultural traditions.

If we start at that Square One - BEFORE prospective parents enter the picture, then is there any way possible to reform China adoptions?

Because I refuse to believe it's impossible.

Unknown said...

"[S]tatistical analysis reveals that a majority of children adopted from China entered the orphanage through Family Planning confiscations, outright purchase, or through other "incentive" programs." Could you please provide a link to this statistical analysis?

Thank you.

Research-China.Org said...

An orphanage-by-orphanage analysis of the orphanages involved in incentive programs is available on our subscription blog. So far we have looked at Chongqing, Hunan, Jiangxi and Guangxi Provinces, and will be looking at Guangdong and Anhui in the next few weeks.


Jena Heath said...

My question is - is this an evolution or was it always so? Can we assume, for instance, that most adoptions at the beginning and even midway through China's international program were of "legitimately" abandoned children and that, for a host of reasons (the growing imbalance between the number of young adult women and men, encouragement of domestic adoption, greater economic power, etc.) fewer healthy children are available now and so incentives/trafficking are now the norm? What would help me is an understanding of how the program has evolved over time.

Research-China.Org said...

The best answer I can give is this essay:

In summary, it seems that a major turning point was around 2000, although we know from the Duans that the six Hunan orphanages were already pressuring employees to find kids back in 1996. So, while we can't be certain all the other orphanages were in a similar position, it does show that some directors were already offering money for kids in the late 1990s, when China's program was still very small in adoption numbers.


Anonymous said...

I would ask your help guiding us on how to ask the US Consulate (and other nationalities who read your writings) to stop the orphanage donations. I too felt that was the least ethical part of the adoption of my two children. I would of preferred to have made the donation or payment in advance of my travel (and for those who don't know you must carry about $8,000 cash on your body into China). I did feel that giving money like this could lead to improper behavior by the orphanage. I had no idea it was possible they (someone in the orphanage) could offer a finder fee for babies. As a father of 2 Hunan adopted children right in the heart of the scandal, I was told my children were found abandoned and certainly led to believe, found and recovered by the police or someone who knew to carry the baby to the local orphanage. I did not know a check or Yuan (RMB) hand out happened afterwards. Stop the donation/payment portion of IA.