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