Adopting New Rules

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Flying back to Beijing from Sichuan, I come across a jolly group of newly-minted parents in the Chengdu airport. It’s a familiar sight to anyone who has traveled in China in the last decade or more, middle-aged westerners, some awkwardly cradling Chinese babies, others chasing after toddlers, their faces filled with a peculiar combination of joy, hope and anxiety. This particular group were Spanish, all of them well into their forties, a few over fifty. There were some mother-father couples but also a few single mothers and what seemed to be a lesbian couple. Most were on the plumpish side and a few looked as though they might technically be classified as obese (there are many definitions of course, but in this case I’d say a Body Mass index –body weight in kilos squared divided by height in centimeters) over 40. I give all this perhaps somewhat irrelevant sounding detail because under the new rules issued by China’s adoption agency that came into force in May almost all would likely have been disqualified. You can no longer be over 50, or obese (defined as a BMI over 40) or single, for a start. You can’t have a criminal record either and there are a slew of other disqualifications having to do with income and previous marriages. On the face of it, none of the new rules seems particularly outrageous or arbitrary. But people working in the system that has brought tens of thousands of Chinese babies new homes in the U.S. in the last decade are puzzled. There’s no doubt that if applied strictly, the new rules will reduce adoptions sharply. The Chinese authorities who issued the new regulations say they are being put in place because more and more Chinese are adopting so there’s no need to rely on overseas adoptions to find homes for orphans. Unfortunately, even if adoption rates are rising, and there’s a strong cultural bias that will take time to overcome, there are certainly far more children out there needing care than the increase can possibly cope with. There are around 100,000 kids in Henan alone who have been orphaned after their parents contracted HIV when selling their blood. These children will find it very hard to get a home because of their association with AIDS. And there are also hundreds of thousands of other physically and mentally handicapped children who face similar odds because of those same cultural prejudices. These groups are precisely those that foreign adopters are more likely to be receptive to taking home, too. Watching the Spainards playing with their new charges, I confess that the sight of all those Caucasian parents and bouncing Chinese babies on their laps still struck me as a little strange, which is especially odd as I have an adopted Chinese son myself. The fact the sight was somewhat unsettling even to me made me wonder what a Chinese official might feel on viewing the same scene. Indeed, I began to wonder whether the motivation for the new rules might have something to do with national pride. After all, China sees itself as an emerging superpower taking its rightful place on the global stage. It must seem humiliating to some that foreigners are still coming in an taking away Chinese children, a symbol perhaps of the country’s inability to take care of its own. Let’s hope that it’s not a misplaced nationalism driving this change. The interest of the children must be paramount.