Saturday, March 05, 2016

Adoption of "Social Orphans"

The announcement by "Small World Adoption Agency" that the CCCWA has approved a program whereby Small World will now be permitted to adopt "Social Orphans" has rightly created a lot of concern on the part of adoptive parents.  The program's proposed purpose is to adopt "children with special needs being raised by family or others than their parents who can not care for them any longer and desire to surrender their parental rights may be adopted by Small World Families working with civil affairs and CCCWA." "These children all will have had irrevocable surrenders of parental rights or termination of parental rights due to abuse or neglect or other appropriate reasons in accordance with Chinese law and the Hague Adoption  Convention." (See agency website link above)

While many adoptive families may think this is a new program, it actually has been occurring for nearly a decade.  As the number of healthy, young female infants has declined since the Hunan scandal of 2005, orphanages have been seeking creative ways to increase the number of children they can adopt to Western families. Stories of Family Planning confiscations, "education programs", and other birth parent abuses have increased in frequency in recent years.  All of these abuses have been largely met by a lack of response on the part of receiving countries, emboldening China to continue expanding such programs with apparent impunity.  

Our first hint of the current "social orphan" program was detected in early 2011, when we interviewed a director-friend of ours in Jiangxi Province.  She indicated that she had recently become aware that some area orphanages were starting a new program, administered by the CCCWA, that allowed area birth families to bring their child to the orphanage, for any reason, to allow that child to be adopted to a Western family.  There was no criteria that would prevent a birth family from doing this (such as an income threshold, etc.).  Rather, all that was needed was for the birth family to indicate some reason, such as being a single mother, too poor to take care of a child, illness, special need, etc.  There was no follow-up interviews conducted, no investigation made, just the legal signing of a relinquishment agreement surrendering parental rights of the child. 

It is easy to see how such a program could be abused. An orphanage director, eager to adopt additional children, could actively approach birth families, like we have seen in Luoyang and other areas, promising that their child will be taken care of by a Western family, and provided a life much better than the birth family themselves could provide. The birth family might be promised that their child will return to them after the child reaches 18, creating the idea that the adoption may be temporary.  We have seen this kind of coercion occur in our own family's adoption history, with our daughter's birth family wondering when our/their daughter will return to China to live with them.  An orphanage could approach families with children of special needs, as another possibility, and tell them their child will be better off in the U.S. or Europe, where rich families will be able to adequately care for the child.  In truth, there are  hundreds of ways that an orphanage director could unethically recruit children under the "social orphan" program.

And there is no one to stop them.  No one.  Not the agencies, not the CCCWA, and certainly not the orphanages themselves.  We saw clearly in the Hunan scandal that the CCCWA turns a blind eye to the origins of the children submitted by China's orphanages.  In response to adopting a child from Luoyang that ended up having living birth parents after the orphanage itself provided death certificates, the CCAA stated:

It’s not CCCWA’s responsibility to check the truthfulness of a child’s file and CCCWA has no means to decide if the information is accurate or not. Foreign adoption agencies are not authorized to check the truthfulness of information in a child’s file in China" (Letter from Admin. Dept., CCCWA, to Carlo and Kerry Nuss (Mar. 20, 2013) (emphasis added) (on file with author).

The proud announcement by "Small World Adoption Agency" should raise alarm bells in the minds of all adoptive parents.  The lack of oversight on the part of orphanages, the CCCWA, the U.S. State Department, and the agency themselves should be a significant red flag concerning the origin of these children.  Extreme caution is recommended, and families are encouraged to avoid these programs altogether.