China Baby Stealing Scandal-Why All the Attention?

Dawn Davenport


At the risk of sounding callus, I just don’t get all the media attention being given to the

chinese baby stealing scandal in the media

While the baby stealing accusations from Longhui County are heartbreaking, it’s curious that in light of all the human rights violation that have resulted from the One Child Policy, it’s the scandal involving international adoption that has gotten so much attention in the media.

allegations that 16 children in Longhui County were illegally seized from their families between 1999 and 2006 because they were born in violation of the Chinese family planning rules.  Now, don’t get your knickers in a knot; yes, I do think it is beyond horrible what happened to those children and those families.  The part I don’t get is that on the scale of abuses that have been reported stemming from China’s family planning policies these 16 children are a mere drop in a very very large bucket.  So why all the concern now over a small number of cases of kidnapping most of which happened over 10 years ago?

The One Child Policy has resulted in a skewed gender ratio.

Admittedly, it is hard to know for sure what happens inside a closed society such as China, but what we do know is that since the one child policy was instituted in 1979 the male to female ratio of births is seriously out of whack.  The natural sex ratio at birth is 105-107 boys born for every 100 girls. The ratio in China was only slightly above this norm before the one child policy.  The 2010 China census reports that the ratio is now 118.06, up from 116.86 in the previous census taken in 2000.  There are regions in China where the ratio is a high as 135.  In 1997, the World Health Organization’s Regional Committee for the Western Pacific issued a report claiming that “more than 50 million women were estimated to be ‘missing’ in China because of the institutionalized killing and neglect of girls.”

What’s happening to all those baby girls?

What happened to all those baby girls?  The answer isn’t pretty.–sex selection abortions (“Love what you get, but choose beforehand” is a common mantra of young Chinese couples), unreported births, abandonment, domestic unreported “adoptions”, and infanticide.  In addition to these measures taken on their own by families, the Chinese family planning law gave local officials a great deal of enforcement power and strict penalties for failure to meet the family planning goals.  For example, in an area of southern Guangdong Province officials were told their salaries would be cut in half if, in a 35-day period, they did not reach a goal of sterilizing 1,369 people, fitting 818 with IUDs, and carrying out 163 abortions.  In this atmosphere, forced abortions regardless of gender, forced sterilizations, and yes, forcible removal of children after birth were not uncommon.  So again I ask, why all the media attention about these sixteen sad, but not uncommon cases.

Why is this particular case getting so much attention?

I fear that the attention is because a Chinese newspaper reported that some of these sixteen children ended up in an orphanage that placed children abroad for adoption, and international adoption scandal sells.  As a strong supporter of cleaning up international adoptions, I find myself in an uncomfortable position.  On the one hand, I am happy that the mighty New York Times and other national publications are devoting so much space to even the possibility that a few children in China years ago might have been forcibly removed (legally or illegally) from their parents and adopted by families abroad.  Even one case of abuse is awful and deserving of coverage.  International adoptions won’t improve without exposure of abuses.  On the other hand, the column inches seem out of proportion to the event even assuming that these 16 children are representative of many more.

The New York Times reported today that the Chinese government had investigated these cases of abuse and found that in one case the child was voluntarily surrendered because the parents were unable to provide care, in five cases the children were abandoned because “the facts about their parentage were hidden by “involved persons,” and the rest were taken because they had been illegally adopted by local families [read: unreported hidden births]. Investigators found no evidence that the city’s orphanage paid kickbacks to officials who provided babies.  I have no idea of the accuracy of this investigation, and just on the surface it seems to contradict what was reported by the few families that were interviewed, but how much do you want to bet that this news will receive far less coverage than the initial report of stolen child being placed for international adoption?

My fear is that in the coverage of this scandal, perspective is being lost, and the average reader is left with the impression of wide spread corruption in Chinese international adoptions.  No adoption system is free of corruption; in fact, no system involving humans is free of corruption.  Abuses exist in domestic US adoptions, in US children being adopted by families abroad, and yes, in international adoption, including Chinese adoptions.  On the whole, I believe the Chinese international adoption system is relatively corruption free.  We need the media’s attention to the good and the bad about adoption, but we need it to be reported in context of the bigger picture.

Image credit:  monkeyjunkie

30/09/2011 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 6 Comments

6 Responses to China Baby Stealing Scandal-Why All the Attention?

  1. Avatar Valerie says:

    Hi Dawn! Great blog post.

    What’s puzzling is that adoption scandals get so much attention whereas human trafficking of kids and adults get so little attention. Children and women especially are sold every day and used in the most horrible ways and yet it’s almost never covered by the media. For some reason, sadly, adoption scandals always sell.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Valerie, that was the larger point I was trying to make. Not that these cases weren’t horrible, because they were. But the only reason they were being covered so extensively was because there were allegations that some of these children might have been adopted abroad. In truth, many children adopted from China in all probability were “abandoned” under duress or force. That is a family planning enforcement scandal, not an adoption scandal.

  2. Avatar Brian says:

    I can think of several reasons to be alarmed:

    1. These our allegations of official government involvement based on official government policies, not the work of private individuals.

    2. It is China where people are often hesitant to speak out against the government, so if anyone is willing to admit to problems, there is a high degree of likelihood that the problem is being under-reported.

    3. Turning a blind eye does not make the problem go away. In the commercial context if you knew that you were obtaining business through the use of bribes, official corruption, or other government actors committing crimes, the US Department of Justice would most certainly prosecute you for continuing to do business in that country and not investigating the problem.

    4. The impact on children if they find out later that they were stolen from their birth parents.

    These are serious allegations of very serious crimes. No one involved in Chinese adoptions should continue as if it’s business as usual.

    To say that no adoption system is free of corruption is way too cavalier a sentiment. Everyone owes it to their children to strive for a corruption-free system.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Brian, my point is not that we should ignore these allegations, nor that they aren’t important, but that they are a small piece of a very large picture that are getting a large piece of the media attention. I am not at all surprised that there are 16 cases of children being stolen from Chinese families because of violations of family planning policies. I have been hearing for years of far worse allegations for violations of family planning rules. I also agree that these are likely many more cases like this. What I am saying is that these allegations should not be used to tar and feather an entire adoption system. If in fact children are being ripped from families and abandoned in child welfare institutions, then for the love of Pete, the Chinese government should stop it, and adoption advocates should applaud their efforts. The solution, however, is not to condemn the children to be so unfortunate to have been the victim of this abuse to live out their lives in an orphanage. Let’s not however use these cases to argue that international adoptions from China are corrupt.

  3. Avatar Sarah says:

    I don’t think we need less media coverage of this terrible story; it’s truth should be told to expose the (if somewhat isolated) corruption and to send the message that these crimes will not be tolerated. What we need is more coverage of ethical international adoptions. Again, it’s the old problem of the media of painting international adoptions in one of two lights: either saintly actions of APs/nonprofits or profit-making crimes of humanity. I really loved the book Mamalita – I thought it was such a evenhanded account of the complexities of international adoption, which really do have the potential to be quite corrupt, but, at least in the author’s case, also serve the need to bring children together with families.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Sarah, well said. Adoption, international or domestic, is neither all good or all bad, and there are opportunities in both for improvement. So long as the orphanages in China were not complicit in encouraging the abuses by family planning official, I don’t see the international adoption part of this scandal. We’ve known for years that our children from China were brought to the orphanage often under duress. There have been allegations for a long time of government officials seizing kids or putting so much pressure on families that the “relinquished” the children. Or grandmothers or other family members taking children or applying pressure to abandon. We’ve heard of much worse, as well. What was new to this story was the allegation that the orphanages paid a kickback to the government officials for children. That had me quite worried because that indeed would be a huge international adoption scandal. But it didn’t make a lot of common sense because at the time most of these kidnappings took place, abandonments were high and there were more than enough children coming in, so why pay a bribe? The government investigation that just came out supports that no kickbacks were paid. I hope they are right!

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