The dark side of Chinese adoptions

Date: 2010-05-05

When Americans adopt babies from China, most assume they've been abandoned. But a scandal in 2005, in which 6 orphanages were found to be buying babies, threw that in doubt. Scott Tong reports that baby selling may be more widespread.

KAI RYSSDAL: A key Russian politician said this week there's been no formal ban on U.S adoption of Russian children. There is, though, a new agreement being worked out between the two sides. Last month, a Tennessee woman sent her Russian-born son back to Moscow unaccompanied.

Russia is the number three source of international adoptions for American parents. China has been at the top of that list for years. Beijing is generally assumed to run a clean program -- orphanages that are above board and children who've actually been abandoned. But a scandal five years ago shook a lot of that confidence. Six orphanages were found to have been buying babies who were then adopted by families from other countries. One of the convicted middlemen in that case is now out of jail. He and his mother spoke to our China correspondent, Marketplace's Scott Tong.

SCOTT TONG: As Chen Zhijing tells it, her family stumbled into the baby-selling business.

In the late '90s, she worked at an orphanage in Hunan province, and every so often, she would find a baby abandoned on a street corner, or at a bus stop and bring it to the orphanage.

Chen would get maybe a dollar to cover her travel costs. But then, around the year 2000...

CHEN ZHIJING: The orphanage asked for more babies. It started paying $120 dollars each. Then $250. Then $500 by 2005.

At that time, China's international adoption program was booming. In 2005, the government decided to approve more adoption requests than ever before. Nearly 8,000 hopeful families came from the U.S. alone that year. For each baby, an orphanage gets $3,000 from the adopting parents. That's Chinese policy.

Chen Zhijing's son, Duan Yueneng, says all that foreign money created a lucrative baby market.

DUAN YUENENG: We sold babies to orphanages. Others did, too. They bought them because foreigners wanted them, and then made big profits when the babies were adopted.

To meet the demand, Duan says he enlisted his wife and sisters to locate more babies. They started buying infants from a supplier in Guangdong province 600 miles away. They say this woman systematically collected unwanted babies from local hospitals.

The babies were then transported by train to Hunan. But it all ended in late 2005, when Duan and his family were arrested and convicted on charges of trafficking 85 infants. Duan got five years in jail. He's just out. His wife got eight years, his sister 15.

Duan shows us court papers, documenting his baby trade: receipts, bank transfers, orphanage logs. They're consistent with his claim that his family sold far more than 85 infants; he reckons he trafficked 1,000 or more. Duan says the orphanages falsified foreign adoption papers for each of the trafficked babies.

In China, every orphan has a file -- listing where it was found, when, and by whom. Duan says in many cases the babies were not found locally, as the adoption papers say. They were bought from far away. The documents we saw indicate at least one went to American parents.

YUENENG: Sometimes the orphanages listed my sister as the finder, or they just put down a fake name. For Americans who adopted babies, let me put it this way: When were the kids really born? Who really found them?

Duan makes no apology for selling babies. The money, he says, encouraged him to deliver kids to orphanages, and to a better life.

Brian Stuy rejects that argument. His company, Research China, investigates Chinese orphans and their history. Stuy says the money orphanages get paid for each adoption invites corruption. Three grand in China, he says, has the buying power equivalent to $40,000 in the States.

BRIAN STUY: There's the potential for tremendous dark side activity. People kidnapping kids to bring them to the orphanages. People having babies simply to give them to the orphanages. If the international adoption program was not there, these children probably would not have ended up in the orphanage to begin with.

Stuy says baby selling is systemic in China, and he says it's still happening today. He just investigated 20 kids from one orphanage, and he says in more than half the cases...

STUY: The information as it relates to their finding was fabricated. Everything about the origin of the child was fiction.

We got one orphanage director on the phone. She told us she's willing to pay $150 for a healthy baby girl. Chinese media report at least 88 baby trafficking convictions since the Hunan trial. But many parents and social workers in the U.S. say that trial was an aberration in China's otherwise clean program.

Chuck Johnson represents adoption agencies at the National Council for Adoption in Washington.

CHUCK JOHNSON: China is considered one of the premier inter-country adoption programs. They have a very strong system of laws and an extremely involved, authoritative central authority.

Johnson says China's adoption ministry -- the CCAA -- investigated the Hunan scandal, and according to its findings...

JOHNSON: None of the children were adopted by American families.

That seems to conflict with the court documents we saw, which indicate that at least one was. Johnson's response...

JOHNSON: I'm not going to comment on that because I have not seen the documents. And also, we've had to rely on the investigation completed by the CCAA.

So we tried to contact the CCAA on this. It didn't respond.

American Cathy Sue Smith in Shanghai sometimes wonders where her adopted daughter was really born. She discovered through DNA matching that her 8-year-old Janna Mae has a biological sister. And here's the thing: the blood sisters were adopted from different provinces, Hunan and Guangdong. The exact route used by the Duan family trafficking network.

CATHY SUE SMITH: It adds to the whole possibility of trafficking.

Smith knows her daughter is not the child court documents show as having been trafficked by Duan. That girl went to another American family. But Smith says she's not surprised by these goings on. She's been in China nine years. Long enough, she says, to know rules get bent.

In Hunan, central China, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

RYSSDAL: Scott's assistant Cecilia Chen helped report that story.


Where did they go? (part two)

Chuck Johnson is certainly an ambitious man, being quoted by news papers all around the world. Any time adoption practices are being discussed, Chuck Johnsons takes the stand and speaks on behalf of the industry he represents. So Chuck Johnson is without a doubt an ambitious man. A more important question though: Is Chuck Johnson an honorable man?

I don't think Chuck Johnson is a stupid man. As much as I despise the National Council for Adoption, I don't believe their representatives are simpletons, gullible to all falsehoods presented in the field of adoption. Chuck Johnson may be ambitious, but he is certainly not stupid. So if he is not stupid, could it be he is deliberately deceiving, and therefore not such an honorable man?

Johnson says China's adoption ministry -- the CCAA -- investigated the Hunan scandal, and according to its findings...

JOHNSON: None of the children were adopted by American families.

It is a well known fact, and Chuck Johnson must know this, that the Chinese authorities told each country the same story. China admitted there were stolen children placed for adoption, but each country that asked for more information got the reassurance no children were sent to that particular country.

So no stolen children went to the United States, Australia, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway or Finland. None of the stolen children was placed in New Zealand, Canada or the UK.

It's a remarkable feat of the Chinese government that they were able to control child trafficking to such an extent that, although stolen children were placed internationally, they didn't end up in any country. Which makes me wonder if China thanks to their space program, somehow has inter-planetary adoption. Or could it just be that China lied to many countries, and all these countries were all too eager to repeat that lie?

The Dutch Minister of Justice, Ernst Hirsch Ballin, though a bit of a peculiar character, is certainly not stupid, yet in 2008, he defended the Chinese authorities in a similar vein Chuck Johnson did, using the same statement that none of the children were adopted by Dutch families.

Ernst Hirsch Ballin is certainly an ambitious man, no one becomes minister of justice without ambition, and he certainly is not a stupid man. Could it be that, just like Chuck Johnson, he is deliberately deceiving, and therefore  not such an honorable man?

Where did they go? (part one) was published July 13, 2007

So why is this huge scandal,

So why is this huge scandal, including true child tragedies, not being picked up by the local media??  Is it possible that the same entity that controls this child trafficking scheme is the same which controls the media?  I smell a rat.

I don't think it's even that conspiratorial

There is no one entity, unless one wants to go down a well-trodden road.

Said scandal simply does not sell adspace, eyeball counts or print materials.

Fat happy giggling babies sell, unless it's Nancy Grace or Oprah or checkout counter tabloids.

Johnson. An apropo name.

This is the continued pattern of adoption "professionals" twisting the facts to continue to protect the image of the industry. No, CJ is not an idiot. He KNOWS the truth, he CHOOSES not to tell it.

China versus Cambodia

Adoptions from China v Cambodia
As every Pro-lifer can tell you, the Chinese government practices forced abortions on women who do not comply with Chinese law.  Due to over-crowding, the One Child Rule, as it sounds, only allows one child per family.  Recently this has been relaxed in certain areas, allowing two.  When caught, very often women who are out of compliance are forced to have a "government" abortion.  Birth of an unauthorized child results in a fine roughly equal to one years salary.  Yes, rich families can often afford more children, but not always.
The only form of social security in China is having a son to rely on in old age.  Girls become members of their husbands family and thus are referred to as "spilt milk." As a result of this One Child Rule, it is essential for most families to have a son.  Sonograms are only available in the largest cities, and the cost is usually out of reach to most families.  The traditional remedy to this dilemma is euthanasia of baby girls at birth.  This practice is not only allowed, but in many places, endorsed by the local authorities (forced). The upshot of this are birth statistics proving that millions of baby girls are "missing."  This fact seems to elude the Pro-lifers.  A small percentage of the baby girls make it to the orphanage.  Perhaps their parents are the conscience ones.  In most other countries infants of either sex can be hustled at a premium.  But China is virtually over run with unwanted baby girls. 
Most of the pheasant population in China live in dwellings with dirt floors.  Strep Throat is endemic in Asia to rich and poor alike.  So are several types of intestinal parasites.  (I only found nites in a Russian orphanage).  The orphanages practice "bottle sharing" at mealtime, passing the bottle from baby to baby.  Thus what one baby has, they all have.  I found a upper respiratory infection in one orphanage, and in another, all the babies had a lower resperatory infection.  These were not treated at the orphanage because this is considered "normal."  The Chinese don't believe in vaccines nor shots and acupuncture is too expensive for orphans. The kicker to this is that children in the orphanage most often enjoy a  better quality of life than those living with the average family in the area. I have found this to be the case in every country open to foreign adoption.  The locals don't give more help to their orphanage because their own lifestyle is no better.  Its seen as normal, or at least OK.
Now Cambodia.  Cambodia is a poorer country than China.  Cambodian orphanages are virtually run over with baby boys.  Why ?  Baby girls are seen as a valuable resource because in bad times (and good) they can be sold into the sex trade. What does this say about the cultures in either country ?  Does this make the Cambodians smarter ?


Get with the times.

Kenny, much of what you say about China is very far off from reality. Most villagers do not assist in orphanages because they do not even know they exist and do not understand the large amount of children that are pulled into them for adoption. Many that do offer to foster or assist have their hearts broken when they fall in love with a child and are denied the ability to adopt or continue fostering because the child is already destined for overseas sale.
Worse than abortion of "unwanted" females would be taping their hands and feet together and their mouths taped closed, drugging the child and stuffing them in crates or suitcases destined for far away baby buyers/orphanages and discarding the dead from the trip.
Tens of thousands of children were imported into orphanages through baby buying programs, their information changed and then their little lives were resold again.
Most of these healthy females could have easily found local adoptive parents (or could have remained with their families if family planning did not steal them) and they could have avoided the many months of hell in a Chinese orphanage. Orphanages that make millions of the sale of the most sought after commodity in China and which fail to spend minimal dollars on children while in care.
Locals do help when they can and not all people in China are 'poor', they are just prevented access to the kids because if they understood the reality of the situation, another scandal would surely be told.

China & its ills

Okay, China has a lot going for it. And I do not hold the Chinese government & its negatives against most Chinese citizens. That being said, however, I have to say this. The more I read about China the more I think Americans should boycott them over 2 or 3 of its worst practices. Lack of freedom of speech is the most egregious practice in my opinion because of one thing: It is the lack of free speech and lack of free journalism that allows all other ills in a country to exist. Sunlight is a disinfectant. Keeping things in the dark - away from public knowledge and public scrutiny - allows all kinds of ills to flourish.

Why shouldn't we boycott a country that does not allow freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of journalism? Why should we patronize such a system by buying its products? By buying from them we are supporting their system. I'm not saying that our hyper-capitalism doesn't have its own ills. It very much does. But at least democracy allows for investigative journalism against the corruptions of 'the powers that be.' Corruption can then be addressed through the democratic legislative process. Progress can be made that way. Of course until we have serious campaign finance reform we won't get rid of what amounts to legalized bribery in our country. Companies with deep pockets can still donate their way to getting politicians to vote their way.

Pound Pup Legacy