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By Richard Foot
September 25, 2009 / Canada.com
HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia mother who adopted a baby from China says she is haunted by questions about whether her little girl — and other Chinese adoptees in Canada — might have been kidnapped from her birth parents, or sold for cash.
"I'm very, very scared," says Cathy Wagner, who wants the federal government to stop all Canadian adoptions from China until fears about the true origins of orphans there can be properly investigated.
This week the Los Angeles Times published explosive evidence that Chinese babies, particularly those in rural villages, had been kidnapped from their parents and sold to orphanages by corrupt adoption officials cashing in on the vast sums of money made available by the foreign demand for Chinese children.
The newspaper also said local authorities had tricked or coerced Chinese families into giving up newborns for adoption, only to sell those children to orphanages.
The paper quoted parents in the provinces of Guizhou and Hunan who said their babies had been stolen, sold, and adopted overseas in recent years.
The Chinese government levies fines against families that have multiple children, but it is illegal to seize a child without the parents' consent, or to buy and sell babies.
Wagner, who adopted a baby girl from China's Chongqing province in 2006, says she doesn't know if her child was kidnapped, or properly placed for adoption by its parents. But her own experience, of travelling to China to receive her daughter, left her with uncomfortable questions.
"I would be heartbroken (if she was stolen)," says Wagner, who lives in Bridgewater, N.S. "A mother's worst fear is that: 'I'm going to find out that I victimized another woman.' I don't want to find that. I also don't want to find out that an orphanage paid for my daughter. It's wrong. It's trafficking either way.
"I don't think us adoptive parents should ever have been put in this position. I think it's our federal government's responsibility to make sure this stops. We shouldn't be sitting here wondering and wanting to know, and we shouldn't be worried that our children were stolen."
When Wagner and her husband first applied to adopt, she says she naively accepted the assurances of adoption officials in Nova Scotia that China's system was legally operated and free of corruption.
The family received government approval for the adoption of a baby girl, and was instructed to make a donation to the Chinese orphanage of $3,000 U.S. cash, in crisp, new $100 bills.
That money was officially meant to reimburse the orphanage for the cost of clothing, feeding and caring for the baby until new parents could be found. However, Wagner says their baby hadn't been well cared for, and had suffered what she calls "severe deprivation" at the centre.
Wagner says according to the orphanage's own information, it would have earned nearly $1.5-million U.S. between 2004 and 2006 in similar adoption "fees." But Wagner says there was little evidence that the money was being spent on children.
More than 80,000 Chinese children have been adopted overseas since 1990. Each year about 1,000 of those children are adopted in Canada. And there are about 30,000 foreign families still waiting for Chinese babies.
Wagner says this insatiable foreign demand, and the cash that accompanies it, not only makes it difficult for Chinese couples to compete for adoptive children in their own country, it also fuels a corrupt system that now appears to involve the kidnapping of babies.
The Chinese Center for Adoption Affairs, the government agency responsible for foreign adoptions, declined to comment on the Los Angeles Times investigation. The agency's officials have told foreign diplomats adoption abuses were limited, and no longer occur.
Wagner says it's difficult for foreign governments — and virtually impossible for Canada's provinces, which oversee incoming foreign adoptions — to investigate the system in China.
She says there are other parents of adopted Chinese children in Canada with fears similar to her own, but most are afraid to come forward.
Wagner admits she is afraid of the false stigma that may be attached to families like hers, once the situation becomes more widely publicized.
"I don't want to be walking in Walmart with my child and have people point to me and say: 'Do you know that your baby was bought, or stolen?'"
At that same time she says, "it's important to start speaking out about this issue, because change is desperately needed.
"We don't have the right to a child if it belongs to someone else. This is an unsafe program that needs to be halted, until somebody can get at the truth."
A spokesman for the department of Foreign Affairs said Friday that foreign adoptions by Canadians are not the department's responsibility. The department Citizenship and Immigration, which grants citizenship to foreign adoptees, did not respond to requests for comments on this matter.