Stolen babies a new industry in China's villages
By Carolyn Moynihan
Girl babies adopted by American and other overseas couples from orphanages in China in recent years may have been forcibly taken from their parents, not abandoned, as the adoptive parents were told. The Los Angeles Times reports at length on a scandal that can be laid at the door of China's inhuman population control policy and corrupt local family planning officials.
It seems that many couples in China have been left distraught by what amounts to baby trafficking, and couples who have adopted the babies are left wondering whether their little girl was snatched from a sobbing mother or tricked away from a bewildered father or grandparent.
Since the early 1990s, says the LA Times, more than 80,000 Chinese children have been adopted abroad, the majority to the US. Many, perhaps, were abandoned, but some parents are coming forward to report that they were coerced to give up an unauthorised baby by government officials motivated by the $US3,000 per child that adoptive parents pay orphanages.
The problem is rooted in China's population controls, which limit most families to one child, two if they live in the countryside and the first is a girl. Each town has a family planning office, usually staffed by loyal Communist Party cadres who have broad powers to order abortions and sterilizations. People who have additional babies can be fined up to six times their annual income -- fines euphemistically called "social service expenditures," which are an important source of revenue for local government in rural areas.
Where people are too poor to pay the fine, officials often punish them by ransacking their homes or confiscating cows and pigs. That's how it was for the residents of Tianxi, a village in the mountains near Zhenyuan, during the 1980s and 1990s.
Then, in 2003, things changed. The year after the Social Welfare Institute in Zhenyuan was approved to participate in the burgeoning foreign adoption program, family planning officials stopped confiscating farm animals. They started taking babies instead.
The villagers, by the way, "resent the suggestion by some that they don't love their daughters and readily abandon them.
"People around here don't dump their kids. They don't sell their kids. Boy or girl, they're our flesh and blood," said Li Zeji, 32, a farmer who says his third daughter was taken in 2004.
In Gaoping, a small town in Hunan province, officials have used family planning laws to confiscate even first-born children on the ground that a couple did not meet all the requirements.
The officials, of course, deny forcibly taking children: "It's a lie that they took babies away without their parents' permission. That's impossible," said Peng Qiuping, a party official and propaganda chief for Zhenyuan. "These parents agreed that the children should be put up for adoption. They understood that they were greedy and had more children than they could afford."
"They're better off with their adoptive parents than their birth parents," argued Wu Benhua, director of Zhenyuan's civil affairs bureau.
They claim the money all goes to improve conditions in the orphanages, but the Times could not verify that, noting that "most of the babies had been housed with families who were paid only $30 a month for their services, according to one foster parent."
Some people blame international adoption itself, saying that the money involved creates the opportunity for abuse. With China there are obviously reasons to be extra careful -- the lack of freedom for a couple to found and raise a family, and the absence of a free press that might thoroughly investigate the whole question of "abandonment" of baby girls.
Since most of those adopted overseas go to the US, it is certainly an issue for the government there to investigate and put the heat on Beijing if necessary.