Corruption in international adoptions

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News Reports of Adoption
 Irregularities in China

Below is a sampling of news articles and broadcasts that have reported on corrupt practices in Chinese adoptions, with very brief summaries of each one's contents.

“China restricts foreign adoptions as demand grows at home,” Eric Reed, July 17, 2010, McClatchy Newspapers.

"Take My Daughter: Confessions of a Chinese baby trafficker," Scott Tong, May 5, 2010, Marketplace, American Public Media.

Reporter Scott Tong shares the backstory of his report on the dark side of China's adoption system, including how one convicted baby trafficker offered to sell Scott his daughter during an interview. View picture slideshow.

"Profile of a Chinese baby trafficker," Scott Tong, Cecilia Chen, May 5, 2010, Marketplace, American Public Media.

"A family in China made babies their business," Barbara Demick, January 24, 2010, Los Angeles Times.

Report on a lucrative trade in newborns that was fueled by an adoption frenzy that saw government-run orphanages paying for children who they then made available to Westerners.

"Trafficking reports raise heart-wrenching questions for adoptive parents," Martha Groves,  November 11, 2009, Los Angeles Times.

Accounts of Chinese children being kidnapped, bartered and sold to orphanages have many adopters wondering about their children. Some may try to track down the birth parents -- but then what?

"Alleged child trafficking ring smashed in China," October, 25, 2009, CNN.

Nineteen boys and 33 girls were bought from impoverished rural families in Shanxi and Hebei provinces in the past two years, Xinhua news agency said.

"China nabs 42 for baby trafficking," October 25, 2009, The China Post, Asia.

Chinese police have arrested 42 alleged members of a trafficking ring that sold dozens of infants stolen or bought from their rural parents, state media reported Friday.

U.S. Dept. of State Adoption Alert: China

China Center of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) has announced that all prospective adoptive families will be required to work with a U.S. Hague accredited adoption service provider for both transition cases and Convention cases beginning December 1, 2009.

"Chinese babies stolen by officials for foreign adoption," Barbara Demick, September 20, 2009, Los Angeles Times.

In some rural areas, instead of levying fines for violations of China's child policies, greedy officials took babies, which would each fetch $3,000 in adoption fees. Photos: "Chinese parents tell of abducted children."

"A young Chinese girl pines for her twin,"  Barbara Demick, September 20, 2009, Los Angeles Times.

Nine-year-old Zeng Shangjie asks her mother when she can see her twin sister, taken away by family planning officials. Shangjie and her mother believe the twin is in the United States.

"Graphic: Chinese adoptions," Doug Stevens, September 19, 2009, Los Angeles Times.

Nearly 61,000 children from mainland China have been adopted by Americans since the late 1990s.

"Adopted teen finds answers, mystery in China," Barbara Demick, August 30, 2009, Los Angeles Times.

Christian Norris of Easton, Md., remembers little of his pre-U.S. life. A reunion at a Beijing hotel helps fill in some of the gaps. Photos: Reunited in Beijing.

“'Manufacturing' Abandoned Infants in China," July 20, 2009, Research-China.org.

Western readers unfortunately were only given abbreviated and redacted versions of the original news story, “Manufacturing” Abandoned Infants", that appeared July 1, 2009 in the Guangdong Newspaper "Southern Metropolis News." Research-China.Org has decided to present an English translation for interested readers. One will find the original story more detailed and compelling than later recountings.

"China Checks Out Charges Babies Taken From Home," Gordon Fairclough, July 3, 2009, The Wall Street Journal.

Authorities in southern China are investigating allegations that local officials took babies from their parents between 2003 and 2005 and delivered them to an orphanage that press reports said has offered children for overseas adoption.

"China babies 'sold for adoption'," July 2, 2009, BBC.

Dozens of baby girls in southern China have reportedly been taken from parents who broke family-planning laws, and then sold for adoption overseas.

United States Department of State: China Adoption Notice, January 23, 2009.

The China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA) has proposed and the Department of State has agreed that beginning January 1, 2009, all adoption cases between the U.S. and China will be processed by China as Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention cases'.

“China revises 1-child policy after earthquake,” AP, May 26, 2008, USA Today.

Chinese officials announced that “the country's one-child policy exempts families with a child killed, severely injured or disabled in the country's devastating earthquake.” The families can obtain a certificate to have another child. “China's one-child policy was launched in the late 1970s to control China's exploding population and ensure better education and health care.”

“China’s Lost Children,” Beth Loyd, May 12, 2008, ABC News.

In-depth investigative report on irregularities in Chinese adoptions, domestic and foreign. Leads with the story of Liang Di, a six-year-old abducted off the street while his father was in a hardware store. The child’s father reports that local police and government officials will not help a poor migrant worker; there has been no news of the boy in more than a year. Different estimates put the number of children abducted and stolen on the black market per year between 10,000 and 70,000. Reporters find international-adoption orphanage officials in Hunan province will pay $350 per child, quoting one as saying, "We buy babies from migrant workers and farmers from poor provinces.” A 2005 Hunan province baby-trafficking crackdown resulted in the firing of more than 20 officials, arrests of 27 people, and jail time for 10. Officials at the administrative level deny that such baby-buying programs exist. Infertile Chinese couples reportedly have difficulties adopting via legal routes and may resort to buying trafficked children.

“China’s great–Scandal shocks West baby sell-off,” March 12, 2006, Sunday Telegraph (accessed: November 18, 2008).

Reports that the jailing of ten people involved in a Chinese baby trafficking racket last month has sent shock waves across the West, where thousands of couples have turned to China to adopt. The case reveals that babies are abducted, bought, and sold in a racket run by organized crime and orphanage officials.

“China plans to keep its one-child policy at least 10 more years,” Jim Yardley, March 11, 2008, The International Herald Tribune.

China's top population official has ruled out changing the country's one-child family planning policy for at least another decade, refuting speculation that officials were contemplating adjustments to compensate for mounting demographic pressures. Minister of the State Population and Family Planning Commission, Zhang Weiqing said that “200 million people would enter childbearing age during the next decade, and that prematurely abandoning the one-child policy could bring unwanted volatility in the birth rate.”

“Foreign adoptions from China fall; More Chinese adopting; fewer children available,” Calum MacLeod, November 21, 2007, USA Today.

The fact that more Chinese couples are adopting within China, which could eventually “sever the pipeline that has sent up to 75,000 Chinese orphans, mostly girls, to new homes in the USA since 1992.” This was confirmed by China’s Ministry of Social Affairs which oversees adoption, which stated that foreign adoptions peaked in 2005 and are declining. The article cites growing affluence as one reason more Chinese are adopting.

“The mystery of China’s orphans; a failed one-child policy,” Beth Nonte Russell, February 2, 2007, The International Herald Tribune.

Opinion article comments on a newly-released U.S. State Department report, American citizens adopted 6,493 children from China in 2006, a decline of 18 percent from the previous year's total of 7,906. China had prepared strict new criteria for foreign adoption applications because the country claimed it lacked "available" babies to meet the "spike" in demand. Notes the sex imbalance within China that has resulted from the one-child policy and the cultural preference for boys. Notes the new Chinese adoption guidelines that do not allow anyone over fifty, anyone who is not married, or has been divorced, anyone with a body mass index over 40, or with a net worth of under $80,000 to adopt from China.

“In an Adoption Hub, China’s New Rules Stir Dismay, Andy Newman and Rebecca Cathcart, December 24, 2006, New York Times.

Reports on how China’s new restrictions of foreign adoption will affect New York City. According to the group Families with Children from China, the Upper West Side has the nation’s “nation’s highest concentration of adopted Chinese children.” Some of the characteristics of the Upper West Side are “considered deal breakers” by the Chinese government, such as “a tendency for women to want a career first and children later; an abundance of single people who can afford to support a child without a mate; a large gay and lesbian community.” The new rules which will take effect in May prohibit anyone from adopting who is obese, single, married for less than two years, has a net worth of less than $80,000 or on any kind of psychiatric drugs.

“China Tightens Adoption Rules for Foreigners,” Pam Belluck and Jim Yardley, December 20, 2006, New York Times.

Reports the fact that China, which says it has been facing a spike in applications for adoptions that exceeds the number of orphans available, is instituting new criteria that render many potential adoptive parents ineligible. The number one source of orphans adopted by Americans has long been a top choice by adoptive parents because of its relatively efficient and supervised adoption system. The new rules restrict single parents from adopting, require a certain net income, bar prospective parents with ailments such as HIV/AIDS or cancer and require they have a body-mass index less than 40, and place restrictions on parents who have been divorced or not married long enough. They also restrict parents who take antidepressants and same-sex couples. Quotes dismayed Americans.

“China now nixes adoption applicants who are obese or single,” Joe McDonald / AP, December 20, 2006, Deseret News (Salt Lake City).

Focuses on China’s new restrictions on foreign adoption, “barring applicants who are unmarried, obese, over 50 or who take antidepressants, according to U.S. adoption agencies.” The new restrictions come during a surge of foreign applications to adopt children from China. Quotes adoption agency personnel.

“China Tightens Adoption Rules, U.S. Agencies Say,” Jim Yardley, December 19, 2006, New York Times.

Article focuses on China’s new restrictions on foreign adoption. Quotes adoption agency personnel as saying Chinese officials “told the foreign agencies that applications had begun to exceed the number of available babies, and that the new rules were partly intended to address that imbalance.” Adoption agencies were also told that China intended to increase the supply of adoptable children by creating a new charity named Blue Skies, which would focus on improving health care for medically fragile infants or premature babies at orphanages.

“Stealing Babies for Adoption,” Peter S. Goodman, March 12, 2006, Washington Post.

“The foreign adoption program has matched Chinese babies with foreign families eager for them, while delivering crucial funding to orphanages in this country. But it has also spawned a tragic irony, transforming once-unwanted Chinese girls into valuable commodities worth stealing.” Includes stories of stolen babies, including one from 2004 in which “a man jumped from a van and stole 16-month-old Fei Mei from the arms of her 8-year-old cousin in the city of Dongguan in China’s Guangdong province.”

Reports on the trafficking scandal in which Hunan province orphanages purchased more than 1000 children from Guangdong province, and then adopted them out to foreigners. “Last month, a court in Hunan sentenced three of those baby traffickers to 15 years in prison and imposed terms of three to 13 years on six others, the official New China News Agency reported. Twenty-three local government officials in Hengyang, the city at the center of the case, have been fired.” Calculates that since each family that has adopted a Chinese baby must give orphanages a $3,000 donation, “Americans last year injected about $24 million into Chinese orphanages.”

Some is put to good use; in some cases staff steal blankets, medicine, and food intended for the children, and officials build for-profit enterprises with the capital. Chinese couples who want to adopt have trouble competing with the foreigners’ money. Quotes Americans who adopted through the Hunan province orphanages as wondering if their children really were willingly given up or abducted.

“23 Officials Punished for Child Trafficking,” February 26, 2006, Xinhua.

Twenty-three officials in China’s Hunan province have been fired for either being involved or negligent in the area’s child-trafficking scandal. The former head of Hengdong Social Welfare Home, Chen Ming, was sentenced to a year in prison. The homes are accused of buying infants and adopting them to foreigners in exchange for “donations.” Three traffickers associated with the scandal, Liang Guihong, Duan Meilin and Dai Chao, were sentenced to 15 years in prison. Six others were sentenced to between 3 and 13 years. The traffickers bought the infants from China’s Guangdong province and sold them to orphanages for around 400 to 500 US dollars each.

“Youth-snatching a growing industry in China: High profits drive abductions,” Mark Magnier, January 8, 2006, Los Angles Times.

Article focuses on child kidnapping and stealing in China in order to sell the babies abroad. “In July, 52 ring members were convicted in the southern region of Guangxi after 28 drugged and bound baby girls, none older than 3 months, were found in nylon duffel bags on a long-distance bus.” China does have laws about buying babies, but “the Hengyang orphanage in Hunan Province, which has provided children for US families, was caught recently buying babies.”

“The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years,” Terese Hesketh, Li Lu, and Zhu Wei Xing, September 15, 2005, New England Journal of Medicine.

Overview of one-child policy, from background to specifics of contemporary implementation. Originally conceived in 1979 to allow for economic growth in a severely over-populated country (at the time China had a quarter of the world’s population and only 7% of its arable land), the policy is strictly enforced for government workers and in urban areas.

Rules differ among rural towns and villages. Rewards and penalties vary greatly as they are decided by local family planning services. In many rural areas couples are allowed to have two children, especially if the first was a girl. This leads to sex selection: if the second child is also a girl, the pregnancy tends to “disappear,” perhaps by means of sex selective abortion (which is illegal) and nonregistration of females. The result is the well-documented increased male to female sex ratio in China.

Congressional-Executive Commission on China, 2005 Annual Report

Trafficking of women and children in China remains pervasive. Traffickers are often linked to organized crime and specialize in abducting infants and young children for adoption and household service. They also abduct girls and women both for the bridal market in China's poorest areas and for sale as prostitutes.

“China’s Horrific Adoption Mills,” Holly Burkhalter, January 11, 1996, New York Times.

The Human Rights Watch last week reported that due to starvation, medical malpractice, and abuse, thousands of children in China’s state-run orphanages have died. The Chinese government denied findings. 

“Adoption changes ‘risky’,” January 7, 1996, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong).

“According to China's 1991 Adoption Law, only childless adults on the mainland who are over 35 - like foster parents from foreign countries - can adopt children.” However, the article claims that a relaxation of the adoption policy will jeopardize China’s one-child policy. The article came after “the New York-based group Human Rights Watch/Asia called for an easing of restrictions to let Chinese couples who have children become adoptive parents.”

“China's Population Growth Soars As Couples Skirt 'One-Child' Policy,” Daniel Southerland, April 2, 1987, Washington Post.

Article reports on rural couples violating China’s “one couple, one child” policy.  A Chinese official warned that China’s population growth is in danger of becoming out of control. Reported by China Legal News earlier in the week, “Communist Party cadres and village leaders are ignoring the birth control policy and having ‘extra-budget’ babies of their own.” The one-child policy is necessary due to the country’s huge population, backward economy, and the lack of arable land, according to the Chinese government.

NOTE: This page from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website offers documentation of and background about serious irregularities in international adoption. For the systemic analysis of corruption in international adoption, please read “The Lie We Love,” Foreign Policy magazine, Nov./Dec. 2008, and visit our webpages dedicated to international adoption. For ideas about fairer policy solutions, please read “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.

© 2008-2011 Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 02454. All rights reserved.

Last page update: February 22, 2011