Have Foreigners Unwittingly Adopted Victims of Baby-Selling in China?

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In recent years, one of China’s most beloved exports has been babies adopted by overseas individuals eager to complete their families and help needy children. Now an investigation by respected Chinese magazine Caixin has uncovered evidence of Chinese family-planning officials taking children from local couples who supposedly had violated the country’s one-child policy and selling them to orphanages. The child welfare centers, it is alleged, then used falsified records to allow the children to be adopted overseas. Under international regulations, many countries require children who are being adopted to truly be orphans or abandoned. The Caixin report focused on the cases of babies from China’s mountainous Hunan province, where Chairman Mao was born and where many farmers struggle to pay the heavy fines imposed on families with extra offspring. The abducted children reportedly ended up in the U.S., Poland and the Netherlands, according to the Caixin report and a summary by official media agency Xinhua. Similar baby-trafficking cases tied to overseas adoptions have been reported in recent years, one in Guizhou province and another also in Hunan.

In the wake of the Caixin story, Hunan provincial officials have officially begun a probe into the alleged cases, which involve some 20 children from Longhui county over the past decade. But previous attempts by family members to locate their children were thwarted by local officials, says the Chinese magazine. Keeping population growth figures low is one way for local bureaucrats to gain promotion, and the link has led to various abuses nationwide, including forced abortions of late-term fetuses. Caixin claims that some of the children weren’t even in violation of the one-child policy. But their parents were migrant workers who had little control of the removal of their offspring from family homes.The scandal also hints at one less reported fact: the declining number of Chinese girls available for overseas adoption. Traditionally, Chinese families have preferred boys because they will stay in the family home when they grow up, enabling them to take care of their elderly parents. Unwanted girls crowded Chinese orphanages; most overseas adoptions of Chinese babies, therefore, involved girls. But in part because of widespread access to sonograms, Chinese women have taken to aborting female fetuses. Doing so is illegal but commonplace. Indeed, China’s latest census results this year show that the country’s gender ratio is now 118 boys to every 100 girls.

Baby-selling has occurred in other countries that offered children for adoption, most notably in Cambodia and Vietnam, where the abuse had been so rampant that countries like the U.S. put moratoriums on adoptions from those places. But a further tragedy of baby-trafficking is that it hurts the chances of truly needy kids finding adoptive parents, as the entire process is tainted by allegations of malfeasance. Homes are needed for many babies. But, as the Hunan case appears to show, finding the right children can sometimes be deceptively difficult.