China, “Orphans,” and economic and legal coercion- just another example of the “Baby Economy”
Many adopters continue to insist that China is somehow ‘the most ethical’ of the international adoption sending counties, as if a Chinese adoption is somehow some kind of “Gold Standard” in the realm of adoption ethics, (and yes, the term “Gold Standard” in relation to international adoption ethics have been used to my face.)
Never mind the reproductive coercion INHERENT to the one child policy, etc. Americans and other receiving countries adopters have slurped up any “surplus” kids that could be found, all while insisting their adoption was ’special,’ that it was somehow far superior to other ethically ‘inferior’ forms of international adoption as have been revealed in recent years by the International scandals in places such as Guatemala or Vietnam.
Time to wake up and smell the coffee.
When China tightened its restrictions on who could adopt in 2006 many people assumed the new restrictions related to wanting a different set of adoptive parents on the other end. While that no doubt was part of the picture, those us watching the international adoption market change, began to see the new restrictions in a different light: even China was having difficulty producing enough children to keep up with international demand.
The demand for very young (and presumed healthy) children has not diminished, but it has rapidly overwhelmed supply.
The new restrictions may well have been an effort by the Chinese to reduce the number of adopters eligible, out of recognition that the sheer numbers of couples attempting to gain a child are simply inherently disproportional to the numbers of children that are, or perhaps will ever be available.
And when not enough children are available to fill even that demand?
New “orphans” must be manufactured to fill that need.
Enter, China’s “Baby Economy” scandal that made international headlines at the beginning of the month. The “Baby Economy” has been a direct byproduct of the (nearly impossible for most to pay) economic fines placed upon country dwellers who exceed their baby quota. The fines are used to extort the children from families unable to pay.
Mr Lu and his wife, farmers in a remote county in south-west China, could not pay the steep fines imposed for having too many children. Their fifth child’s current whereabouts are unknown, according to a report by the Southern Metropolis News.
The child, who was six months old when she was taken away, is believed to be among 80 newborn girls ‘confiscated’ from parents who broke family planning laws, and then ’sold’ for adoption overseas in the past eight years.
The girls were put in orphanages in Zhenyuan county in Guizhou province and then adopted by couples from the United States and European countries under the foreign adoption programme. Under Chinese law, abandoned babies can be registered for adoption. It is believed that the authorities forged documents stating the babies were orphans, said Chinese reports.
The adoption fee of US$3,000 (S$4,350) per baby was reportedly split between the orphanages and local officials.
The foreign adoption programme has spawned what local reports termed as ‘Baby Economy’, which earned local orphanages massive profits.
These 80, in the wake of the revelation of earlier baby selling systems, such as this-
In late 2005, police busted a baby-trafficking ring that had abducted or bought as many as 800 children in Guangdong province since 2002 and sold them to orphanages in Hunan province for 3,200 yuan to 4,300 yuan (S$679 to S$912) each. The children were put on the adoption programme.
An investigation by the state-owned Southern Metropolis News found that about 80 girls in one county had been sold for $3,000 (£1,800).
The fines are set at rates simply unobtainable for most families:
Parents in rural areas are allowed two children, unlike urban dwellers who are allowed one.
But if they have more than that, they face a fine of about $3,000 -several times many farmers’ annual income.
The policy is deeply unpopular among rural residents, says the BBC’s Quentin Somerville in Beijing.
The BBC attempts to lay the blame at the doorstep of “local corruption” rather than the more systemic view that the law itself creates such opportunities for extortion:
Child trafficking is widespread. A tightening of adoption rules for foreigners in 2006 has proved ineffective in the face of local corruption.
Like every other father in Zhenyuan, Lu wanted a boy, who finally arrived after three daughters. His wife then gave birth to another girl, and the couple had to support five children with a yearly income of about 5,000 yuan ($732).
Shi Guangying, a local family planning official, gave them an ultimatum: Give away their little daughter or pay fines of about 20,000 yuan ($2,928).
“This is the policy”, Shi said. “You pay, or you let the government take care of the baby,” he was quoted by the newspaper on Wednesday.
But instead of being raised as promised, the girl was taken to the Zhenyuan orphanage and later adopted out to a foreign family, at a reported price of $3,000.
At least 78 girls have been handed over to foreign families in the past eight years. Two children with disabilities remain at the orphanage.
“a parent’s right of guardianship over their children:”
Zhou Ze, a lawyer and professor with China Youth College for Political Sciences, said local family planning officials and the orphanage had committed a crime because nobody had the right to exploit a parent’s right of guardianship over their children.
The fact that babies had been removed to make a profit meant it was also abduction, Zhou said.
“It is legal that they can charge fines, as the parents did violate the law by giving birth to more than one child. But that doesn’t mean they can take away the child. The fines can be paid later or reduced”, he said.
Tang Jian, an official of the Zhenyuan family planning bureau, said: “According to our investigation, it is true that babies who have parents were forced into the orphanage and then abroad”.
The former chief of the local birth control office, Shi Guangying, claimed that they have documentation from all the families who have had babies out of line with China’s “one-child policy.” According to the local policies in this region, once a baby is born, there is a window anywhere from 20 days to 3 months, where the baby may be seized. It seems that they don’t want kids who are a few years old as they are afraid of kids running away and going back home to their families.
Between 2003 and 2005, there were almost no families in Zhenyuan County who had kids out of compliance with the Chinese policy who could afford to pay the fines, which were in the upwards of 40,000 Yuan (US $5,882). Shi said, “If they cannot pay, we will seize their children to compensate for the fines. Once the baby was taken into the welfare home by the birth control office, they remain there indefinitely or until they are adopted.”
An investigation has alleged that up to 78 babies taken into care in Guizhou province, in southern China, were sold for £1,800 each, mostly to childless couples in the US but also to families from European countries, including Sweden and Spain.
In a climate of what amounts to economic and legal extortion, taking the act of abandonment or of a child being “orphaned” (which as we’ve seen time and time again, the legal defintion of “orphan” in adoption often has little or nothing to do with the popular misconception of a child being somehow rendered “parentless”) words like “genuine orphan” lose their meaning.
Some women will simply abandon their children after birth rather than have them forcibly removed when confronted with impossible economic fines. Such coercion renders terminilogy such as “genuine orphan” a status that is by definition impossible to determine.
Many of the girls were genuine orphans or had been abandoned by their parents as unwanted, however, in at least three cases it is alleged the children were removed in lieu of £2,000 fines levied for breach of China’s draconian one-child policy.
The cases relate to a three-year period between 2004-2006, when the policy was being strictly enforced by the local government of Zhenyuan county in Guizhou.
The Telegraph piece provides some of the details originally reported in the “Southern Weekly” pertaining to how these children were rebranded as having been “abandoned:”
Yang Jibin, the reporter who researched the story for the Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou, said he was shown a list of 80 female babies while on a visit to the Zhenyuan state orphanage, of which 78 had been adopted abroad.
He told the story of one couple, Lu and Yang, who gave up their fourth baby girl in 2003 after a visit from a birth control officer who insisted on taking the baby away, describing the girl as “abandoned baby, found and turned in by Lu” in the orphanage register.
“That was my job. I just followed the policy,” the officer was reported as saying, “They were willing to give up their baby to offset the fine” After relinquishing their child without signing any formal contracts, Lu and Yang never returned to the orphanage to visit. They added that, even if the child was now found, they would not take her back for fear of having to pay the outstanding fine.
Tang Jian, leader of Birth Control Administrative Bureau Inspection Team of Zhenyuan county apparently admitted the practice was prevalent at the time.
“It is true that some baby girls were forced be brought into the charity house and then sent abroad,” he was quoted as saying.
What can consent mean in such a climate, wherein coercion is bedrock to the very system, where words are maliable and paperwork forged?
Other parents who had their children removed fought for them before they were forever out of reach, adopted abroad:
Other parents were less compliant when asked to give up their children. A former worker at the orphanage quoted in the report recalled one local father who tried several times to take back his daughter in 2004, even offering bribes to staff to let her go.
When this failed, he came to visit his daughter more and more often until, one day, he grabbed her, stood up and ran. “Four or five nannies surrounded him immediately and took back the baby,” the worker recalled.
The story also makes a brief note of the investigation:
The local government issued a statement saying that two senior local officials had been warned and had received “executive demerits” following a local disciplinary inquiry. The statement said the government would continue to investigate the allegations. “There will be no cover up,” the statement added.
A JOINT work team including family planning, civil affairs personnel, police and Party disciplinary officials are investigating a scandal in which babies were taken from parents and sent overseas for adoption from southwest China’s Guizhou Province, an official told Xinhua news agency yesterday.
Yang Jiesheng, deputy secretary general of the Qiandongnan Prefecture government and deputy head of the work team, said that the public orphanage in Zhenyuan County in Guizhou is suspected of violating rules in accepting “abandoned” babies.
As we see so often in these cases, though, “punishments” rarely involve restoration of parental rights and the kids being returned to their familes, resulting in an ends justifies the means mentality whereby once the kids are out of the country, no matter what criminal actions led to their adoptions, those who got a hold of them get to keep them,
It wasn’t clear whether there would be any attempt to retrieve the children who were improperly sent out for adoption.
Also see, China Punishes Adoption Officials.
Note that the penalties only relate to 3 of the 80 cases:
Chinese authorities have punished six government officials after three baby girls whose parents were still alive were sent to an orphanage in southern China that subsequently put them up for adoption overseas, state media and an official said.
Family planning officials in impoverished Guizhou province’s Zhenyuan County sent the babies to a state-run orphanage during 2003 and 2004 without properly investigating their backgrounds, the county government said on its Web site.
All the parents were still alive but had given up their children to avoid harsh fines under the country’s controversial one-child policy. State-run orphanages are only allowed to take in children who have no parents or those whom police have certified as abandoned.
Parents living abroad legally adopted the girls in 2006 and 2007, the government said. The orphanage – which received $3,000 for every adopted baby – has been cleared of wrongdoing, Zhenyuan county government said.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Friday it was not clear if any of the officials who were punished had benefited financially.
The article details the circumstances of the three cases as much as possible from the information provided,
One of the girls was the third daughter of Li Zeji, who did not want to pay the 40,000 yuan ($5,854) fine for violating the one-child policy, Xinhua said. Mr. Li sent the baby to his cousin who in turn told family planning officials the child had been abandoned, the report said.
The Zhenyuan government said other officials misled another set of parents into handing over their girl by telling them that because they were giving her up voluntarily, they could reclaim her later. The Web site did not provide details.
In the third case, the Luo family gave their second child to a sister who told town officials she had found the baby abandoned, the Zhenyuan government said.
In all three cases the officials sent the girls to the orphanage without proper investigation, the government report said.
Xinhua said six government and Communist Party officials had been punished for their role in the case, including two family planning officials who had been demoted. Wang Daohua, the former assistant head of Jiaoxi township where the babies came from was dismissed for “direct liability.”
An official surnamed Zhang from the Zhenyuan county discipline inspection committee confirmed six officials had been disciplined, but did not identify them or specify their punishments.
So, that “taken care of” I guess it’s back to business as usual.
What is business as usual? As always it comes down to the money flowing through adoption and how every link in the chain is dependent upon those would-be-adopter’s foreign dollars flowing in-
The orphanage involved in the scandal in Zhengyuan County of Guizhou Province was accused of taking children away from parents who could not afford fines for violating family planning rules and then sending the children overseas for adoption. The orphanage earned US$3,000 for each child placed with a foreign family, according to earlier media reports.
The money from the adoptions was worth 1.1 million yuan (US$160,992.7) and enabled the orphanage to add a new building. The local government shouldered the remaining 2.9 million yuan needed.
The new building, measuring 18,000 square meters, will house more than 80 beds, compared with the 10-plus beds in the existing home, which was built in 1991 with a total area of 20-plus square meters, according to vice director Rao Fujian.
“Without the money, the new building would have been impossible,” confirmed Wu Benhua, director of Zhengyuan County Civil Affairs Bureau.
Rao denied the orphanage made profits by giving up children for overseas adoption. All the money earned was used to improve the facility – as ruled by the country.
“We didn’t spend a penny of the money for any other purpose than improving the facilities of the orphanage,” he stressed.
Rao also denied the orphanage had conspired with family planning officials to snatch babies from their parents as abandoned children. The orphanage just accepted the children, he said. According to law, abandoned children must be sent to local orphanages, he added.
A joint investigation into the orphanage confirmed Rao’s claim. There was no economic relationship between the local family planning commission and the orphanage, Yang Jiansheng, leader of the investigation group, told the Southern Metropolis Daily.
Whether all the money actually went back into the orphanage or not is something we will probably never know.
The political will to delve deep into the intricacies of such a system is, to put it mildly, lacking, at best.
BUT even if every penny of it did go into the orphanage (highly unlikely,) part of the problem is, “improving the orphanage” particularly in an economically empoverished province, ultimately means increased capacity and over the long term potentially improved cash flow.
Moving from roughly ten to more than 80 beds means the ability to move far more ‘product’, i.e. infant girls, out of a country that requires that children available for export be part of the orphanage system.
For most of those being exported, the orphanages are temporary holding at best. The eventual international adoptees won’t be staying at the orphanage long. Many will be adopted before they turn a single year old, all but a tiny fraction being adopted before they reach age 4.
Of those that remain, some will be adopted domestically in China, others will remain long term, having disabilities and having been deemed unmarketable or undesirable.
The orphanage began taking abandoned babies from June 1995 and from May 2002, it joined the overseas adoption program.
Of the 81 abandoned babies it took, 60 were adopted by overseas families in developed countries. Eleven were adopted by Chinese families. Another 10 were cared for at the orphanage.
While the Chinese may feel they’ve dealt with the situation domestically, internationally a least one receiving country may undertake its own investigation, Justice minister investigates Chinese adoptions
Dutch Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin has asked the Dutch childcare inspectorate to investigate the adoption of children from China.
His request is in response to revelations in a television programme that in one of China’s provinces the authorities force parents to give their children up for adoption.
The children are then adopted by foreigners, including Dutch couples. On their papers it is stated that the children have no parents.
Finally let me provide two last links,
Babies “confiscated” in China and sold as orphans to the western market on Birth Mother, First Mother Forum that just hit this afternoon. The entire piece is well worth the read, but I wanted to quote a couple of important passages. She views the situation very similarly to how I do (but says it ten times better than I could.)
China, long a provider of babies for the burgeoning market in the U.S., has cracked under the pressure to keep up with the demand.
Lorraine, like myself (though coming at it from a slightly different perspective) definitely sees the larger picture:
This is not the first time child trafficking from China (or India)has been uncovered. We’ve previously written about the international trade in babies, all documented and published in magazines such as Foreign Policy and Mother Jones–from the poor nations of the world, such as Guatemala, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Russia, Kazhakstan and others. Because the baby economy is a cash cow for poor nations and demand is high, unscrupulous individuals will find a way to provide the goods–even when there are no babies available through honest means. Children are kidnapped, mothers are tricked into giving up their babies for what they think is a temporary time, papers are forged and children are stolen. Why? Because people are willing to not look deeply into where the children come from, or if they are indeed orphans.
What creates this market? People who believe that they are entitled to a child, simply because they can afford one, when nature does not provide
So back to our mythical “Gold Standard?”
The only “Gold Standard” I see at work here has to do with what the going rate for girls from China happens to be at any given point.
The (dripping with adoption marketing) Adoptive Families Magazine provides some recent INS Immigration Statistics on Chinese adoptions here in America:
Number of Adoptions from China:
Age/Gender of Children Adopted From China in 2006
Source: INS Immigration Statistics
44% under 1 year of age
52% 1 – 4 years of age