Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Is Baby-Buying Still Going On??

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We recently conducted a "wide-net" birth parent search project in Jiangxi. One of the big questions about China's program is why the number of children being submitted for international adoption has declined so sharply following the Hunan scandal of November 2005. There is no doubt the number of children fell simultaneous to the scandal publicity, the only question is why.

I recently spoke with a Japanese journalist for NHK Television, the Japanese version of NPR. He is doing a story on the impact of the Hunan scandal on the Chinese adoption program by profiling one of the American families that had adopted from China in 2005, and how the intervening 16 years have changed their perspective on the China program. When I showed him the graph of submissions by month from the dominant Provinces in 2005, he asked why things had gone so quickly south.

The truth is we don't know the actual reason why, but we do know what aren't the reasons. The reporter speculated that the orphanages began funneling adoptees to domestic families to avoid potential international scandal. "You are right, that is a possible scenario. However, we have the adoption statistics from domestic adoptions inside China, and they show domestic adoptions did not increase following the scandal." OK, the reporter queried, maybe China's signing on to the Hague Agreement in January 2006 caused orphanages to "change their stripes," and cease to buy babies, since that violated the newly signed international agreement. "Well," I replied, "that is also a possibility. But in February 2006 the Beijing CCAA held a China-wide meeting of orphanage directors, and told them to submit every child that entered the orphanage for international adoption, no matter their health or gender." They specifically address paying rewards for babies, stating that if an orphanage was caught paying 1,000 yuan or less for a baby, the government would protect them, but if they were caught paying more than 1,000 yuan, they were on their own. "If Beijing really wanted orphanages to abide by the Hague Agreement, they could have simply said, 'Don't pay money for babies.'" Besides, I added, we have seen that orphanages have continued to traffic in babies after 2006.

Which brings us to our recent experience. We sent a friend of ours to northeastern Jiangxi Province to locate any birth families in the villages and towns that had relinquished a baby between 1995 and present. Our friend was approached by a birth mother, who showed them a copy of the adoption certificate from the orphanage of an American family that had adopted the child in Spring 2012. She asked our friend if we could help her locate this family, so that she could find out how her daughter was doing. Lan reached out to the birth mother to learn her story. 

The birth family were officially registered as an "urbanite," meaning they were allowed only one child under the One-Child Policy. When the birth mother became pregnant with a second child, they wondered how they could have their second child registered. They had means and relationships, so they planned to hide their second child, since the Family Planning fee was over 30,000 yuan. To do this, they rented a second apartment in town to try and avoid detection. 

And then a woman approached her. This woman was known to the next-door neighbor of their new apartment. The elderly woman worked as the assistant director of the local orphanage before retiring. The ex-assistant director told the birth mother that her son was infertile, and although he and his wife had tried for many years, they were unable to have a biological child. She wondered if the birth mother would be willing to let her son adopt their second child if she was a girl? It would make them so happy, and the birth mother's child would remain in the area. The birth mother felt that this solution could work, since she would be able to watch the child grow up from afar. She agreed to the ex-orphanage employee's suggestion.

So, when the birth mother gave birth to the baby in the town hospital in March 2011, the ex-assistant orphanage director was there to pick up the baby the same day she was born. The birth mother felt good, knowing that her baby girl would be living with a successful family in the area, and would not be hard to check on if the birth family wanted.

So, the following year the birth mother tracked down the assistant director and excitedly asked her how her daughter was doing with her son. Strangely, the retired assistant director grew agitated, told the woman not to talk to her again, and said that her daughter had actually been adopted to a foreign family and she would never see her again. The woman's callousness infuriated the birth mother, and she told the woman that she was going to the police to file a kidnapping report. "Go ahead," the woman replied, "Go to the police if you want. I don't care."

So the birth mother did. She smoozed a local police officer and got them to file a report. The police went to the orphanage, interviewed the orphanage director, and arrested the retired assistant director. They also made a copy of the orphanage file for the child, including the adoption certificate. They gave the copy to the birth mother. 

And then released the retired assistant director. Charges dropped.

So, now the birth mother had the name and address of the family that had adopted her daughter. 

We have reached out to the adoptive family. The story is obviously developing, and DNA testing will need to be done to confirm the relationship. Since the child is now only eleven years old, it may take time. But we are hopeful of a somewhat happy ending to this birth family's saga, and thankful to the birth mother for her persistence. It provides yet another data point for the current situation in China and her international adoption program. 


For data purposes, the birth date of the child was retained by the orphanage, although they indicated that the child was found at two days old "at the gate of the orphanage." When the birth mother saw the abandonment certificate in the orphanage file, she was incensed. "They say I abandoned my daughter at the orphanage. I never did this. Why did they shame me with this lie?" 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

“Searching for Your Chinese Birth Family” – A Review

It was only a matter of time before someone put pen to paper to offer a guide to Chinese adoptees as to how to search for birth families in China, and Wesley Hagood shows through his presentation that he is up to the task. Having known Wes since 2004 when he requested his daughter’s finding ad from us, I have always been impressed by his doggedness and attention to the smallest of details. Both of these characteristics are on full display in this book.

“Searchingfor Your Chinese Birth Family” is divided into nine chapters and appendixes covering the full range of how a search could be conducted, including chapters on using DNA, hiring searchers to search using the orphanage documentation, and searching using social media inside China. He wisely recommends that searching adoptees begin with a genetic genealogy-based (DNA) search because it is easy, inexpensive, and over time has the greatest probability of success (Wes speaks here from experience. After employing hundreds, if not thousands of hours implementing other methods of searching, the match to his daughter was ultimately made by a simple DNA test). Wes employs a very broad “adoptee-centered” searching approach, meaning that he offers any and all ideas for a single adoptee to utilize, giving little emphasis to effectiveness and value of the various search ideas, nor for the potential impact of those ideas on the community at large. Other than small lists prioritized by what he feels is the order things should be done in, he offers no opinion as to whether an adoptee should employ particular search avenues, or whether these ideas will have a chance of success. In other words, there is very little data behind the ideas.

To use one small example: On the list of potential DNA data bases that an adoptee could utilize he references Zuyuan, a company that briefly came on the scene in 2018 concurrent with Wes writing this book. Zuyuan’s claim to fame was that they were able to match a pre-identified birth family with a pre-identified adoptee using a third-party DNA company. When word spread of this reunion, the adoption community was excited, and people started thinking that this could be a viable path for reunions. It was this excitement that allowed Wes to include Zuyuan on his list of Chinese data bases.

The problem was that as adoptees uploaded their DNA to Zuyuan, Zuyuan then turned around and marketed their DNA to birth families to encourage them to test with Zuyuan, for a fee. Some of these birth families, a few of whom we have met, felt that since they had done a DNA test with Zuyuan that they would not need to test further to get into other, more reliable and far-reaching data bases. Thus, in a very real sense, birth families that tested with Zuyuan (and it probably wasn’t many before the company shut down a short time later) were potentially deprived of any chance of locating their relinquished child. Their DNA may be lost to the adoption search community (Wes did include a footnote to our article strongly discouraging the use of Zuyuan).

The primary issue I see with Wes’s book is that by approaching the subject from an "adoptee-centered" perspective, Wes ignores the overall search community, and how individual steps taken can positively or negatively impact the larger search efforts of all. He fails to point out that not only should adoptees search for themselves, but they should be mindful of how their actions will impact those that follow after. Yes, an adoptee should do everything in their power to search, but only if those actions don’t hurt the chances of others. Those that pushed for Zuyuan, for example, unwittingly damaged the search efforts of the entire community. I would have liked to see more “broad picture” discussion in Wes’s book of the various data bases and other strategies he wrote about. Such a “data driven” appraisal to go alongside his recommendations would have greatly increased the value of the book.

The book is extremely valuable for presenting the huge pile of bricks from which an adoptee can pick and choose to form their search "platform." Most will not use all of the ideas, because as Wes points out each adoptee’s story is unique. Wes correctly emphasizes that before an adoptee does anything, they should gain the information about their particular orphanage. Understanding what was happening in an adoptee’s orphanage is crucial to building a search “platform” on a solid foundation.

Wes’s final chapter, “Our Story – Xinyi Under My Skin,” is a tremendously informative and enjoyable chapter. It should really be read first. It is here that we see the doggedness and determination of the author on full display. I was left wanting more at the end of the chapter. He confirms, for example, that the Xinyi orphanage had a baby-buying program in place, something we confirmed in 2019 when we matched an adoptee from Xinyi with her birth family in Wuchuan. But Wes deprives us from knowing what he learned about how his daughter came to be in the orphanage. The revelation of these reunions is important, I believe, to allow later adoptees to know what their story may have been. (In private correspondence Wes relates that the birth family has no idea how their daughter ended up in the orphanage, which information also informs other searching adoptees).

Wes has compiled an impressive book on searching. I would encourage searching adoptees and their families to use “Searching for Your Chinese Birth Family” as a springboard for researching their own search strategies. It is a valuable resource.