Stolen babies a new industry in China's villages

Date: 2009-10-10

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.


Yunnan Providence big for human trafficking

This long border with Burma is hard to control, many of the brides for Chinese men are coming from Burma. Many of the "Chinese" adoptions are actually Burmese babies.
Chinese border town emerges as new front line in fight against human trafficking

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 26, 2009; A16

This booming little border town in China's southwestern Yunnan province, where the economic prosperity of China is separated from the destitution of Burma by nothing more than a flimsy, rusted metal fence, has emerged as the new front line in the worldwide fight against human trafficking.

On any given afternoon, a steady stream of people scale the six-foot-high fence, unperturbed by the Chinese border guards posted just a hundred yards away. Amid the Burmese men looking for day labor, or women coming to sell their vegetables in the wealthier Chinese markets, is traffic far less benign:

Burmese women being brought over for marriages with Chinese men -- some forced, some voluntarily arranged through "matchmakers." Babies being brought into China to be sold. And Chinese women from poorer inland areas being moved in the opposite direction, often ending up in Southeast Asia's sex industry.

In the shadowy world of human trafficking, say government officials and advisers with foreign aid agencies, China has become a source country, a destination country and a transit country all at once.

"Some of the Yunnan women and girls think they'll get a better job in Thailand," said Kathleen Speake, chief technical adviser for the United Nations' International Labor Office in Beijing. Burmese "are coming into China. We're looking at being trafficked for adoption, and women being trafficked for marriage."

No firm numbers are available on the extent of trafficking. Kirsten di Martino, a project officer in Beijing for UNICEF, said that from 2000 to 2007, China's public security bureau investigated 44,000 cases of trafficking, rescuing about 130,000 women and children. But, she added, "this is just the tip of the iceberg."

China, she said, "is very big, and has a lot of border -- and has a whole lot of problems."

Here in Ruili, two criminal gangs were cracked and 14 women rescued in the first half of the year, said Meng Yilian, who works for the newly formed group China-Myanmar Cooperation Against Human Trafficking. Burma is also known as Myanmar.

A legally suspect vocation

"In the villages bordering Myanmar, there are some people working as matchmakers, " she said. "And some of them are human traffickers. It's hard to tell who are the matchmakers and who are the traffickers."

Matchmaking, which falls into a legally murky terrain, is rooted in Chinese tradition, which allows a man to make a gift to a woman's family in exchange for marriage.

In this border area, matchmakers are not hard to find. From Ruili, a gravel road leads west, running parallel to the Burmese border and past ethnic Dai villagers working in paddy fields. In Mang Sai village, the matchmaker is a heavy-set 28-year-old woman who said she has been in the business seven or eight years and had "successfully made 20 matches," including two involving Chinese buyers and Burmese girls.

The matchmaker -- she requested that her name be withheld because her profession is legally suspect -- said a local Chinese girl will cost as much as 50,000 renminbi, about $7,300. But a girl from Burma, she said, costs just 20,000 renminbi, or just under $3,000.

She said her matchmaking fee is 3000 renminbi, or about $440.

"I follow the principle: Only if the two people like each other is it a match," she said.

Further south, in Jie Xiang town, a pharmacist said it was often difficult to tell which Burmese girls come here voluntarily to marry Chinese men and escape poverty and which ones are the victims of traffickers.

The pharmacist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals from traffickers, said, "For the woman 25 to 30 years old, they come voluntarily. For those 25 and younger, it's hard to tell if they come voluntarily or were forced."

The pharmacist, 43, said he often speaks with the Burmese women because they come to his shop for carsickness medicine before they set out for long drives with their new husbands.

"They are forced by their economic situation at home," the pharmacist said. "They have no other choice."

He said he knows one trafficker in the town who is trying to find a buyer for an 8-year-old Burmese girl after selling the mother.

"The border is so long, and there are a lot of channels," the pharmacist said. "You can't watch every path. It's really easy for people to come across. There's no strict border here at all."

A long, porous border

A few hours at the border confirmed what the pharmacist said. While the official border crossing point at Jie Gao was relatively quiet -- just a few cars passing by and two pedestrians -- there was a steady flow over the rickety metal fence nearby, just out of eyeshot of the green-uniformed border policemen.

A woman from Burma, Zei Nan, 51, climbed over the fence carrying a sack filled with vegetables she was hoping to sell. A young man, Zaw Aung, 29, said he crosses over from Burma almost every day, looking for day labor. Another woman, Huang Shuguo, 30, came to the fence to bring a change of clothes for her husband, who drives a motorcycle taxi on the Chinese side.

The spot is so well-known as a border crossing point that it could hardly be called secret. Red taxis and motorcycles cruised up and down the narrow street, hoping to pick up Burmese migrants. Others stopped to discharge their passengers at the fence.

Several people crossing said that on the rare occasions when the police intervene to stop people, the penalty is a fine and a day in jail. But Zaw Aung said, "We are seldom caught. Even the police know we are climbing over."

The government, however, recently launched a crackdown on the "matchmakers" as one step in the effort to combat trafficking. And there is evidence that the move has had some effect.

In Huo Sai village -- a place identified by area residents as a key transit point for trafficked Burmese women -- the matchmaker was nowhere to be found. Residents said the matchmaker had gone underground because of the increased police monitoring.

Researcher Wang Juan contributed to this report.

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