Canada probes claims of baby abductions

Date: 2009-10-19
Source: National Post

Richard Foot

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," said Janet Nearing, 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," Ms. Nearing said. "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 Chinese province of Guizhou had been abducted from their families and sold for US$3,000 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 article quoting parents in the provinces of Guizhou and Hunan, who said their babies had been stolen, sold and adopted overseas.

The parents said government officials from local family planning offices -- tasked with ensuring China's one-child policy is upheld -- threatened to impose fines of up six times their annual income if they did not give up their girls for adoption.

The Times investigation found the town of Zhenyuan in Guizhou province received $180,000 from foreign adoptive parents between 2003 and 2007 -- money local officials claimed went to improve conditions in the city's Social Welfare Insititute. No visible improvements to the building could be seen.

"It raises serious concerns, no doubt about it," Ms. Nearing said. 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 -- Ms. Wagner says she was required to pay a US$3,000 adoption fee, supplied to her daughter's orphanage.

Although adoption is a provincial responsibility, Ms. 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 Ms. 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 Stephen Harper, who is seeking an invitation from China for an official visit to Beijing, possibly during a trip to Asia next month.

Ms. 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.

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