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By Richard Foot, Canwest News Service
October 18, 2009
The Canadian government has expressed formal concerns to China about claims that Chinese babies are being kidnapped and sold to orphanages for adoption in Canada and other western countries, Canwest News Service has learned.
Canadian Embassy staff in Beijing have asked the chief of the China Centre of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) — the state agency that oversees China's international adoption program — to investigate.
"Chinese authorities are looking into this question," says Janet Nearing, the director of adoption services for the government of Nova Scotia, who says federal officials in Ottawa informed her that embassy staff have held meetings on the subject with Chinese officials.
"(CCAA's) director general has assured the embassy staff that the agency is looking into this matter," says Nearing. "He added that no children adopted by Canadians were (illegally obtained). I don't know what his source of information would be, but that's the information we were given."
Newspapers in China reported in July that dozens of baby girls in the southern Chinese province of Guizhou had been abducted from their families and sold for $3,000 U.S. per child to local orphanages, which in turn adopted the babies out — for similar fees — to couples from North America and Europe.
Last month, the Los Angeles Times also published an investigative article quoting parents in the provinces of Guizhou and Hunan, who said their babies had been stolen, sold and adopted overseas.
"It raises serious concerns, no doubt about it," says Nearing.
Although China levies fines against citizens that have multiple children, it is illegal to seize a child without the parents' consent, or to buy and sell babies.
Reports of corruption in China's international adoption program first surfaced in 2005, but China said it was an isolated incident. New allegations this year prompted one Canadian parent — a mother in Nova Scotia who adopted a Chinese baby in 2006 — to go public this fall with fears that her daughter may not have been a legitimate orphan.
Although Cathy Wagner's child came from the province of Chongqing — where claims of abduction and baby-trafficking have not arisen — Wagner says she was required to pay a $3,000 adoption fee, supplied to her daughter's orphanage in crisp, new U.S. bills.
Nearing, who oversees all adoptions in Nova Scotia including those from overseas, calls this year's allegations "very troubling," and says they prompted her to ask Ottawa to look into the matter.
Although adoption is a provincial responsibility, Nearing says provinces have no means of investigating alleged corruption in other countries, or of dealing with foreign governments.
Those matters are handled by the Inter-Country Adoption Services, a branch of the federal Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.
Officials from the department did not respond to requests for details about what embassy staff asked of the Chinese, but Nearing says officials in Ottawa acted quickly this fall to seek information from China.
In the past, China has not responded kindly to questions about alleged corruption within its state-run adoption system.
When the Dutch government raised similar concerns in 2008, China warned the Dutch that ongoing questions would result in trade retaliation against Holland, according to government documents obtained by the Dutch adoption agency, World Children.
Canada's own queries of the Chinese government come at an awkward time for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is seeking an invitation from China for an official visit to Beijing, possibly during a scheduled trip to Asia next month.
Nearing says Ottawa and other governments are virtually powerless to verify what Chinese authorities might tell them, calling the foreign-adoption program a matter of "trust" between countries.
She also says she has no way of telling parents who have adopted from China whether their child was abducted, trafficked, or legally obtained.
Despite such problems, Nearing says Canada should wait for more information before imposing a possible moratorium on adoptions from China.