High-flying diplomat's China girl

By Jeremy Watson
29 March 2009 / Scotland on Sunday
SHE is a high-flying Scottish diplomat who has the job of promoting the best of Britain in one of the world's most populous and commercially important cities.
As the UK consul-general in Shanghai, Edinburgh-born Carma Elliot is responsible for the nation's relationship with China's ever-expanding business capital.

But Elliot also has a very personal stake in the world's fastest-growing economy. The diplomat has adopted an abandoned Chinese baby girl and now combines the role of single mother with her official duties.

"I got to the stage where I was thinking about my work-life balance and realised that this was something I wanted to do," she says. "Through my professional life I was aware of the social circumstances of these babies.

"So I thought long and hard about it and when I decided to go ahead I was delighted when the Chinese authorities approved the adoption. Then one day I got a call saying my baby was ready for collection. Within a couple of hours I became a mum."

Elliot, 44, has had a textbook career with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) which she joined straight from studying Chinese and German at Leeds University.

As a student, she studied in Shanghai in 1984 and one of her first postings for the FCO was to the Chinese capital, Beijing, shortly after the massacre in Tiananmen Square. Postings followed to Brussels, Bonn, Paris, and Madrid before she returned to China and the mid-western city of Chongqing.

Her job there as consul-general – one level down from ambassador – was to look after the interests of British businesses and travellers in the little-known region while helping to build commercial relationships between the two countries.

It was also there that she became aware of the plight of abandoned baby girls.

"It's quite a complex situation," she says. "There is a book called Wanting A Daughter, Needing A Son which sums it up. People may want daughters but they feel they need a son to look after them as they get older. In places where there is a one-child policy, some hold out for a son and put the daughter up for adoption.

"Then there are also cultural issues in that being a single parent is very unusual. So babies born during teenage pregnancies are also sent for adoption. The mothers do care what happens to their child so they are usually left outside an orphanage or hospital where they know their babies will be found and looked after."

According to a 2005 estimate, there were up to one million able-bodied and disabled children – most of them girls – living in about 1,000 state-run orphanages in China. Thousands of baby girls continue to be abandoned each year although the one child rule, introduced to curb population explosion, has been relaxed in many provinces.

Many female foetuses are also aborted, which has led to an astonishing population imbalance in China. There are 37 million more men than women, the most unbalanced gender ratio in the world.

In 1996, facing a rising number of abandoned children, the Chinese government established a central authority to oversee the demand for foreign adoptions.

The USA is now the biggest importer of Chinese orphans with around 50,000 being adopted by American parents every year at a cost of around £12,000 per child.

Elliot returned to China and Chongqing, a major regional centre and a city of five million as consul-general in 1999. Fluent in five languages, including Mandarin, she became known as the best-known voice of Britain in China by hosting a weekly phone-in radio show called Let's Talk, reaching millions of Chinese listeners.

Elliot praises the careful method that the Chinese authorities apply to matching up children with prospective parents.

"You do not select a baby, you are matched up with a baby. They ask whether you want a boy or a girl, which age group, and whether you want a child from a particular ethnic group. There are 56 in China," she says.

Elliot will never forget the phone call from the orphanage. "I got a call out of the blue to say 'come and collect your child.' As the orphanage was close to where I was living I just jumped in the car and went off to get her," Elliot says.

That morning was the first time she had physically set eyes on the seven-month-old baby she decided to call Isabel.

"Like any new parent there is a sense of amazement and curiosity about how things will turn out," she says. "Then it was just a matter of getting to know each other and learning about her character."

Elliot has no idea of the exact circumstances in which Isabel, now seven, was abandoned, only that she spent the first months of her life in the orphanage.

"Abandoning a child is illegal so many of the babies arrive with no note or anything that would lead to the identification of the mother."

She is aware that it is unusual for a single woman to take the decision to adopt. "Yes, but you find that when you are a single, working mum in an expatriate community there is both acceptance and a lot of support. I also have a wonderful English nanny, Rebecca, who is like a big sister to Issy and takes good care of her when I am not there.

"I do not know that if there had been another parent in her life her life would have been better. As it is, I am very proud of the way we've done this together."

Elliot was awarded the OBE for diplomatic services in 2003 and after a two-year spell as consul-general in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, between 2004 and 2006, taking baby Isabel with her. Elliot returned to China two years ago and a new position as consul-general in Shanghai. She will remain there until mid-2011.

She was back in Edinburgh last week as part of an FCO delegation making arrangements for a giant trade fair in Shanghai, a city of 21 million people, next year. She is UK Assistant Commissioner General of Shanghai World Expo 2010, an event that will showcase British businesses to China and the rest of the globe.

Although Isabel remained in Shanghai for this trip, she has met her grandfather on an earlier trip to Scotland. "He's very proud that there is now a Chinese member of the Elliot clan," her mother jokes.

"If you were to ask her now she would say she is Scottish because she has a Scottish grandfather," she says.

Her joy is watching her daughter grow and develop characteristics that are alien to her adopted family. "She is very musical," says Elliot. "That must come from her biological parents because we are all tone deaf."

She now realises, she says, what hard work it is being a parent. "But every minute is worth it. I am sure I can provide for her both emotionally and financially, I have the best job in the world and I am lucky enough to be living in China at such a vibrant time as this. Not only that, I have had the privilege of being given the chance to adopt one of their children and hopefully give her a good life."

'Best thing ever'

Veteran West of Scotland MSP Gil Paterson knows all about the abandoned babies of China. He and his partner Sheila adopted a two-year-old girl just over six years ago after struggling to have their own child. Lucy is now eight and doing well at primary school near her Stirlingshire home.

"It was the best thing we ever did," says Gil, right, an SNP list MSP. "She's a very bright child, very happy and a real joy to have around."

On the day that Lucy was born and left in a shop doorway wrapped in a red blanket – January 4, 2001 – Paterson and his wife were enjoying a holiday in California. Their happiness was underpinned, however, by an underlying sadness that they had tried and failed for 11 years to have a child, despite IVF treatment.

"We considered adopting a child in Scotland, but because of our age (Paterson was 60 at the time] we were told we could only adopt an older child. Nothing wrong with that, but we just wanted a child of our own."

Through business contacts, Paterson learned about an alternative: adopting a child from China's overcrowded state orphanages.

The couple applied to the Chinese authorities for an adoption, and on December 18, 2002, they met Lucy for the first time. Days later she flew home with them to Scotland to start her new life.

Selling the surplus

Am I the only one who thinks selling the surplus of so-called unwanted children is morally bankrupt?

I agree

When I read the above article I realized the procedure for Westerners living in China is different from the ones living outside of China, why is that?

As far as I'm concerned it's a disgrace China is even sending children. I've said it before and I will say it again. If you are rich enough to organize the Olympics, you are rich enough to take care of your own children. So shame on China, shame on Korea, shame on Russia and shame on the USA, which last year was the third largest export country relative to the Netherlands.


the USA send kids to the

the USA send kids to the Netherlands too?

I know a lot of black male children are being adopted from California and Missouri into Canada... which I thought was not supposed to happen...

Politics, Placement, and Politically Correct Statements

As one who was born in Canada, and purchased by an American couple (with a child of their own), I know adoption seems to bring-out the "politically correct" in people.

There are those who truly care about the well-being and safety of children...and there are those who want to APPEAR as if child safety really matters.

It's amazing how huge the gap is between child-placement and child-safety, isn't it?


Adoption from the USA

Last year the Netherlands adopted 66 children from the USA, which may not sound much, but compared to the total number ~600 it is substantial. The majority of internationally adopted children come from China, but while the adoptions from that country are declining the adoptions from the USA are rising. Most of the adoptions from the USA are private adoptions without any agency interference.

The Netherlands is not the only country adopting from the US. Germany, Sweden and the UK also import children from the US.

Canada too

Canada also adopts children from the US

Morally bankrupt is laughing all the way to the bank

Selling children is morally bankrupt, but adoption agencies are laughing all the way to the bank.

As a KAD (Korean adoptee), I am increasingly enraged at the callousness of all involved in adoption who benefit monetarily. 

When adoption agencies are in business to sell children for a profit, all under the tax shield of a tax-exempt, non-profit 501c 3 .....they are incented to continue the practice of selling children .

In Holt's 2007 annual report (posted online), their assets exceeded their liabilities by over $7.5 million.   Additionally, revenue from public support only outnumbered revenue from adoption fees because of govt grants given to Holt.  It looks like to me that adoption fees = salaries for adoption agency workers.  They spent over 2 million to obtain a little less than $8 million in public support.  Sounds like Holt uses fancy ways to obtain donations.

Who is acting on behalf of the children, solely for  welfare of the children? I think that adoption agencies should not be able to claim tax-exempt, non-profit status unless a majority of their revenue is directly utilized for the adoptee and it should be required that a certain percent of their revenue, like 20%, should have to used to support single parents, alcohol-drug abuse programs, and financial support for families in crisis(so they can keep their children). 

But at the end of the day, of course....it's only money....

Money's role in child placement

Personally, the articles that feature politicians, diplomats and celebrities adopting foreign-born children bother me.  For these people, the adoption-experience has a whole different reality, for lots of reasons.  [I think it's safe to say even in Adoption-Land, special favors are often granted to those in special circumstances.]  However, for the sake of general discussion, I believe money decides lots of things, as explained in the article, "Some parents without Madonna's cash must put adoption dreams on hold during recession":

“Even before the recession, adoption rates internationally were down a little,” says Victor Groza, Ph.D., a professor of parent-child studies at Case Western Reserve University and an adoption researcher who works with agencies in the U.S. and other countries. “It’s a pretty scary time. When the economy is good, parents can make a plan and leave a job to take a maternity leave when they adopt. But that’s gotten a lot harder, and there are all kinds of issues that are up in the air, which creates a lot of uncertainty. This has an impact on adoptions.”

So while more and more high-profile people are becoming more or less color-blind to a child's origins, I don't think it's fair to feature "the high-life" as a common reality for foreign-born adopted children.  After all, read what one child, from India, reportedly said to mega-mother, Angelina Jolie:  

Jolie recently revealed plans to adopt a child from India when she met the child stars of Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire".

When ten-year-old Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail asked the "Tomb Raider" star why she hadn't adopted from his home country, she replied, "Well, I'll let you into a little secret, we will soon."   [From:  "Brangelina to adopt from India?" ]

Imagine being the child NOT chosen by a rich loving celebrity/politician/diplomat... does that make every other option in child placement a grave disappointment?  [I read one article that made me wonder just how many people are led to believe adoption solves all financial problems, and how this family-making-solution is expected to be re-paid in the future.  See:   "The orphans left behind"]

One has to wonder how many (so-called) orphans [or more correctly, those with extended families too poor to care for their own family-members] are languishing in poorly run orphanges and counting on their lucky stars to be adopted by someone who has more money than God?  [In terms of "what's best for the child", what sort of message are we sending children when over and over they see how money can buy anything, even a child who already has a family???  And what sort of message is being sent each time a struggling parent is led to believe relinquishing their rights is in the best-interest of the child?]  I hate to imagine how many parents and children secretly believe all adoptive parents  are rich, very attentive and would never harm or neglect the child that cost plenty.  [See the growing list of Abused Adoptees, and remember not every abuse-case makes the headlines or the 6 o'clock news.] 

Meanwhile, studies ALSO prove economic hardships in the USA can lead to substance abuse, domestic violence, and neglect.  [See Florida RN's Watch for Signs of Econcomy-Related Child Abuse and Men Will Be Men.  Elsewhere in the world, economic hardships can make desperate parents do desperate things, so just how safe and how well are the rights of children being protected when supply and demand still rule a relinquished child's fate?

[Perhaps these little fiscal-facts get lost when adoption recruiters are very busy working and creating all sorts of adoption plans for their eager to save-the-orphan advocates.]

<BIG heavy sigh....>  The more I read, the more I believe sending countries really don't care too much about the final placement of their native-born children.  It seems the bottom-line is very simple -- If money can be made, and money can be saved, what's a few less "unwanted children" wasting-away in state-care? 

Unsuitable but influential people are being allowed to adopt

It's interesting to note that the Independent on June 19, 2007 wrote the following about a report by Trinity College related to the outcome of inter-country adoption:

But mostly the executive summary paints a resoundingly positive picture of inter-country adoption into Ireland. The summary mentions that social workers share the concerns of adoptive parents that the assessment process is too long. But the summary ignores the evidence collected by researchers, which amounts to one of the most damning examinations of inter-country adoption Irish style.

But you have to dig deep into the report to learn what is rotten at the heart of the practice.

The report said a key finding was that Irish inter-country adoption does not meet the best interests of the child.

The stunning conclusion is that Irish law and public policy is walking over the rights of some of the most vulnerable children on the planet. The report recorded that interviews with senior social workers suggested that totally unsuitable but politically influential people are being allowed to adopt.

According to the social workers, after the lengthy assessment process most negative assessments are overturned by the adoption board and what they claim to be unsuitable people are allowed to become parents to and have complete access to some of the most vulnerable children in the world.

The social workers have no doubt why their rejections were overturned by the Adoption Board.

Unsuitable but influential people are being allowed to adopt

Those who want to adopt are in general "a vocal and politically influential group in Irish society," they told the Trinity researchers.

Because of what the social workers describe as political manoeuvring in the adoption process and because of the lower standards in the international adoption process the study found that current inter-country adoption practice in Ireland does not operate "in the best interests of the child".

from: A damning study of inter-country adoption, Irish style

A royal joke

Is it seriously surprising to learn home-studies and follow-up investigations are often full of missing pieces and little white lies, ESPECIALLY if long-distance keeps the two working (child-placement) parties apart?  Surely people know how money, power and influence can change certain "legal" requirements.  All one has to do is pay the right people to say the right things, and "PRESTO-CHANGO", deals are made, documents are signed, sealed and delivered and no-one has to know a damn thing because three little words, ( "mum's the word") can make a LOT of extra money.

Hell, if morals, ethics and a genuine concern for a child's well being really mattered, there would be no pedophiles "helping" children found and sold near or in "local" orphanages.  Instead, they are not only allowed to have access to children while they are in-state-care, but they are allowed to adopt the unsuspecting children, too.

But we're all to believe international adoption SOLVES the problem of political corruption and poor child care.   

Orphanage Children - Let them linger?

While there is corruption everywhere many, many good people are doing great work for unwanted children and this should not be overlooked. I don't believe the answer is to let the children stay in their own country in a stinking orphanage while the so-called intellectuals of the world argue why they should stay put where they are. The majority of inter-country adoptions result in happy lives for adopted children in adoptive families whether you want to believe it or not. Childhood is so short. We should be trying to get as many out as quickly as possible. I've worked in an orphanage and its a devastating existence. Rich and famous people often do get special treatment. So what, if another child escapes a life of hell in the compound. The focus should be on quick placement.

Is it part of the plan?

I can't help but think these orphanages purposely keep their facilities in crap condition because so much money CAN be made through adoption, especially international adoption. And as far as "quick placement" goes, don't you think the more kids get sold through orphanages, the more new kids will be put in to replace the sold kids so they too can get sold? You can't tell me with all the donations given to these places, not one stinking place can provide a decent place to live so "languishing" doesn't have to become such an obscene and offensive word!

Linger vs. Languish

There is no amount of money that can make an orphanage anything but a stinking place. Kids need parents not an institution. BTW I said linger, you said languish, which is really a more accurate a description of what is happening to them. So sad to meet kids that are 16 that have never stepped foot outside the gates. Such a waste of human potential. Horrifically some children are sold. Let's think about that for a minute. How are adoptive parents to blame? Would the child be better off with the parent that was willing to sell them? Or the orphanage that was willing place them, or the country that allows it to happen, or the parents that were longing to adopt them? If we discontinue adoption to stop this practice we go back to the can of ashes by the birth bed. Problem solved? Adoptive parents are vetted much more closely than birth parents, so I would say the odds are in favor of adoptees.

Practice v. Process

Interesting comments... to which I would like to add my own 2 cents.  The more I learn about the adoptive parent experience, the more I am learning just how unethical some adoption agencies AND orphanages can be.  For instance, if we were to look at the growing trend that's taking place, one has to wonder what's the main reason behind most of the Disrupted Placement Cases we feature.  More and more, I read how ill-prepared adoptive parents are, especially when they are not told the truth about the child chosen for them.  They are NOT prepared for sexually acting-out children; they are NOT prepared for children with unmentioned conditions/illnesses (like organ damage, autism, FAS, lead poisoning, mercury poisoning, or other forms of mental/physical developmental problems.);  they are NOT prepared for the label of all labels, RAD.  So what's the next step for these "lucky" adopted children?  They are either brought back "home", (whatever country that may be), sent to live at a "local" RTC, or go from temporary home to temporary home.  From what I understand, it's not known just how many adoptees ultimately end-up on the streets or in prison, but I imagine with each year, that number will be increasing.

Who is to blame?  I personally blame the nature of the adoption industry, itself.  As long as private agencies can make a large profit, thanks to the adoption process, serious questions need to be asked and answered before any child gets removed from anywhere.  Not every adoption agency runs an ethical businessNot every agency is concerned about a child's future well-being and safetyNot every agency cares how or where a child was foundNot every adoption agency follows the law.    As long as money can be made, it's all good for those in the practice to make money from desperate/eager people.  PAP's MUST remember this when they are looking through yellow pages for an adoption agency, or flipping through a website that features pictures of "orphan" children.

Without universal ground-rules, everyone will lose.

The orphan-industry

What we can agree upon is that there is corruption everywhere. Whether there are many, many good people doing great work for unwanted children remains to be seen. If there were so many so-called good people doing great work there wouldn't be so many children living in a stinking orphanage in the first place. 

In 2003, Stern, a German magazine, published an interesting article about Mother Teresa which in translation is called Mother Teresa - Where are her Millions?. The article shows how the work of Mother T's congragation is completely about acquiring assets, while spending as little as possible. Overcrowded and poorly run orphanages simply make more money than well run institutes. The more children languish, the more money the orphan-industry makes.

Trying to get as many out as quickly as possible under those economic rules will only lead to a growing influx of children into the system. And once the system is established it's hard to stop it. In 1990 an article appeared in The Washington Times, called South Korea closing foreign trade in abandoned babies. In the article South Korean officials claim they are going to stop inter-country adoption. Almost 20 years later South Korea is still in the top 5 of sending countries. Korea has no orphan problem; they have a societal issue with pregnancy out of wed-lock, a problem they can only start to solve when they have to face the issue.

Going for the quick fix will only maintain the status quo, one which makes some people very rich.

Orphanage directors and children

Spend some time in Eastern Europe and you will see that most orphanage directors and the facilitators who place the children are not living in the same conditions as the children. In fact, many drive new cars, wear fur coats and take trips to Paris thanks to the fees paid to adopt these kids and all of those cash orphanage "donations" that were supposed to improve the lives of the children still living there.

"Quick placement" under the current unregulated landscape does nothing to help the problem of children living in crummy institutions. Further, as we are finding, some of the children are so damaged by the horrors they've experienced prior to placement, that a "quick placement" into an adoptive family is not advisable for either the unsuspecting family or the child.

~and yes, I am an adoptive mom

Minimize Damage

I agree with what you say. The longer the child stays in an orphanage the more damage they endure. That is why I feel so strongly about placing children as soon as possible.

There are good programs and good agencies.

Quick placement

How can you agree with what the other person posted if what that other person said children should NOT be placed in adoptive homes as soon as possible? There may be good programs and good agencies, but there are many really bad programs and bad agencies, too. My money says the bad agencies are the ones who don't last very long, but advertise shorter waiting periods and quicker placements.

Quick placements benefit two major groups. The private adoption agencies and the orphanages. On a much smaller scale, quick placements also benefit the growing number of quack attachment therapists who say they can treat children who came from badly run institutions. Sure some adoption agencies may be really good, and offer really great comprehensive parenting programs, but what about the ones who are in it for the money and do questionable background checks, get kick-backs from therapists thanking them for the referrals, and claim they know nothing about an orphanage's involvement with child trafficking? Quick placements can cause serious problems for the parents, both the adoptive and the birth, and quick placements can cause serious problems for the child.

Like the previous person noted, quick placement does nothing to improve the crummy unregulated landscape, it only offers a lame excuse to continue business as usual. It's sad when people who claim to support adoption can't see how kids are getting hurt because people are in too much of a rush to get what they want (when they want it) and not at all interested in improving state care given to abused and abandoned children. I'd rather stay longer in a quality orphanage than be sent to live with people who have no idea how to parent. Yes, I was adopted.

Chinese capitialism of little girls

"I got a call out of the blue to say 'come and collect your child.' As the orphanage was close to where I was living I just jumped in the car and went off to get her," Elliot says.

Acting as a Consul-General, this woman should have let the Chinese Officials know of any "disgust" that she and the rest of this world thinks of the stupid

What a disgrace CHINA has become, forcing MOTHERS into giving up their daughters.


Hmmm, last time I checked Chinese adoption officials have deny single women adoptions. And even if she was a approved single women how in the name of Chinese Corruption did she land a seven month old baby girl that did not have special needs.. it is called CORRUPTION CLOUT.

And while were on the topic I have a feeling she did not wait three years as most AP's are being told.
When it becomes as simple as " come collect your child," did the Chinese officials mean the child that we forced a mother to give up!

Gee the Chinese sure caught on to Capitalism quickly. Now everything that is created in CHINA is exported including baby girls.


non-Americans adopting American children in Foster Care

This seems so twisted; am I to understand that
Mr. and Mrs. John Q. American will spend $30,000 for an African child in Ghana, Ethiopia, etc.,
they travel some 4,000 miles while..........................Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Netherland travels to the USA to adopt one of our beautiful African American children in the US foster care system?

What is wrong with this picture?

Some of the twisted reasons

Well, the situation is a little bit more twisted, since in several cases Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Netherlands are in fact Mr. and Mr. John Q. Netherlands. The US is one of the few, if not the only country, that allows homosexual couple to adopt internationally.

I think there are several reasons Mr. and Mrs. John Q. America adopt an African child from Ethiopia and not from America. There is the aspect of money, a cheap child (one from foster care) is less prestigious than an expensive child. Ethiopian children have distinctly different features from most African American children, with more European-style noses and relatively light skin colour. The promotion for adoption from Ethiopia is much more effective than for adoption from foster care. Many adoption agencies have sought alliance with churches throughout the US, that eagerly promote inter-country adoption, while being somewhat indifferent towards the children in foster care.

Finally, Ethiopia offers relatively young children, compared to the foster care channels. There are hardly any infants in foster care, and not all that many toddlers. Ethiopia has an abundance of both.

Adoption Agency declares "Madonna bought her baby not adopted"

Partners for adoption has declared Madonna's baby a purchase and not an adoption.
This coming from an agency that has an International Surrogacy Adoption program.

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