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The dark side of Chinese adoptions

A Chinese worker cares for a baby at an orphanage in Wuhu, in eastern China's Anhui province.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: A key Russian politician said this week there's been no formal ban on U.S adoption of Russian children. There is, though, a new agreement being worked out between the two sides. Last month, a Tennessee woman sent her Russian-born son back to Moscow unaccompanied.

Russia is the number three source of international adoptions for American parents. China has been at the top of that list for years. Beijing is generally assumed to run a clean program -- orphanages that are above board and children who've actually been abandoned. But a scandal five years ago shook a lot of that confidence. Six orphanages were found to have been buying babies who were then adopted by families from other countries. One of the convicted middlemen in that case is now out of jail. He and his mother spoke to our China correspondent, Marketplace's Scott Tong.


SCOTT TONG: As Chen Zhijing tells it, her family stumbled into the baby-selling business.

In the late '90s, she worked at an orphanage in Hunan province, and every so often, she would find a baby abandoned on a street corner, or at a bus stop and bring it to the orphanage.

Chen would get maybe a dollar to cover her travel costs. But then, around the year 2000...

Chen Zhijing: The orphanage asked for more babies. It started paying $120 dollars each. Then $250. Then $500 by 2005.

At that time, China's international adoption program was booming. In 2005, the government decided to approve more adoption requests than ever before. Nearly 8,000 hopeful families came from the U.S. alone that year. For each baby, an orphanage gets $3,000 from the adopting parents. That's Chinese policy.

Chen Zhijing's son, Duan Yueneng, says all that foreign money created a lucrative baby market.

Duan Yueneng: We sold babies to orphanages. Others did, too. They bought them because foreigners wanted them, and then made big profits when the babies were adopted.

To meet the demand, Duan says he enlisted his wife and sisters to locate more babies. They started buying infants from a supplier in Guangdong province 600 miles away. They say this woman systematically collected unwanted babies from local hospitals.

The babies were then transported by train to Hunan. But it all ended in late 2005, when Duan and his family were arrested and convicted on charges of trafficking 85 infants. Duan got five years in jail. He's just out. His wife got eight years, his sister 15.

Duan shows us court papers, documenting his baby trade: receipts, bank transfers, orphanage logs. They're consistent with his claim that his family sold far more than 85 infants; he reckons he trafficked 1,000 or more. Duan says the orphanages falsified foreign adoption papers for each of the trafficked babies.

In China, every orphan has a file -- listing where it was found, when, and by whom. Duan says in many cases the babies were not found locally, as the adoption papers say. They were bought from far away. The documents we saw indicate at least one went to American parents.

Yueneng: Sometimes the orphanages listed my sister as the finder, or they just put down a fake name. For Americans who adopted babies, let me put it this way: When were the kids really born? Who really found them?

Duan makes no apology for selling babies. The money, he says, encouraged him to deliver kids to orphanages, and to a better life.

Brian Stuy rejects that argument. His company, Research China, investigates Chinese orphans and their history. Stuy says the money orphanages get paid for each adoption invites corruption. Three grand in China, he says, has the buying power equivalent to $40,000 in the States.

BRIAN Stuy: There's the potential for tremendous dark side activity. People kidnapping kids to bring them to the orphanages. People having babies simply to give them to the orphanages. If the international adoption program was not there, these children probably would not have ended up in the orphanage to begin with.

Stuy says baby selling is systemic in China, and he says it's still happening today. He just investigated 20 kids from one orphanage, and he says in more than half the cases...

Stuy: The information as it relates to their finding was fabricated. Everything about the origin of the child was fiction.

We got one orphanage director on the phone. She told us she's willing to pay $150 for a healthy baby girl. Chinese media report at least 88 baby trafficking convictions since the Hunan trial. But many parents and social workers in the U.S. say that trial was an aberration in China's otherwise clean program.

Chuck Johnson represents adoption agencies at the National Council for Adoption in Washington.

CHUCK Johnson: China is considered one of the premier inter-country adoption programs. They have a very strong system of laws and an extremely involved, authoritative central authority.

Johnson says China's adoption ministry -- the CCAA -- investigated the Hunan scandal, and according to its findings...

Johnson: None of the children were adopted by American families.

That seems to conflict with the court documents we saw, which indicate that at least one was. Johnson's response...

Johnson: I'm not going to comment on that because I have not seen the documents. And also, we've had to rely on the investigation completed by the CCAA.

So we tried to contact the CCAA on this. It didn't respond.

American Cathy Sue Smith in Shanghai sometimes wonders where her adopted daughter was really born. She discovered through DNA matching that her 8-year-old Janna Mae has a biological sister. And here's the thing: the blood sisters were adopted from different provinces, Hunan and Guangdong. The exact route used by the Duan family trafficking network.

CATHY Sue Smith: It adds to the whole possibility of trafficking.

Smith knows her daughter is not the child court documents show as having been trafficked by Duan. That girl went to another American family. But Smith says she's not surprised by these goings on. She's been in China nine years. Long enough, she says, to know rules get bent.

In Hunan, central China, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

RYSSDAL: Scott's assistant Cecilia Chen helped report that story.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.
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I recently read article on the dark side of adoptions from china. I believe most of what I read regarding this. The Russian program has at least as many problems as the Chinese, Bulgarian, Ukrainian and Kazakhstan.
I worked in the International adoption trade here in the US for approximately two years. I believe that you should look at the practices of US adoption agencies in their reporting of information on prospective adoptive US parents to the foreign governments and, the reporting of the medical conditions of the children that are presented to these parents.
Falsification of document to the foreign governments, parents and the INS was rampant during the time I was employed in this industry.
Documents were usually scanned into computers, reworked and then printed out on either laser or bubble jet printers. These documents were then later sent to foreign governments or parents.

The whole story uses only the interview with a child trafficker and his family who accuse the Chinese orphanages buying babies. The photos of the receipts actually tell only the Orphanages provide compensation fee to those who care for the babies, in terms of food, clothing, and time in caring, I presume, since it is only equivalent 400-500 US$ (the black market price for purchasing a baby in China is 10 times higher). I presume that the child trafficker was accused of selling babies, usually 4000 US$ or above, in the black market, rather than sending the babies to the orphanages. I am not saying that the orphanages do not buy babies for profits (I do not have any information on that), but the story itself reported here does not tell the orphanages do buy babies from child traffickers.

It will be great if the Marketplace could post the whole transcripts with the child trafficker online as well, with English translations, so readers can make their own judgment about the true stories occurred there in China.

I agree that there is lack of transparency in China as officials, adoptive families, traffickers seldom talk about those issues openly. Hope Marketplace would be transparent to tell the readers how they got their stories, and what actually Duan and his mother and sister, told in the interview.

My seven year old daughter was adopted from China and I must say that including this story under MarketPlace and the lead in to it made my stomach churn- as if she or any human being is a commodity. I suppose that was the point, and while I cannot expect you to consider the emotional impact of all the adoptees who may have heard this story, I wish you would. Having said that, I fully support exposing corruption and delving into this story further to try to find out how truly wide spread the sale of babies is and especially how many are actually kidnapped. As a parent, I chose China for many reasons and one was the apparent oversight by the CCA to prevent corruption. We have even returned and had a warm reception at my daughter's orphanage and viewed her finding site. It is deeply disturbing to consider that our information may not be real. At the same time, I feel fairly helpless to try to find out the truth- how would one navigate an investigation in such a complex country such as China. We are left with limited options but I would welcome an avenue to create an open adoption situation- in other words to put out our information so that should a birth family come forward, we could at least let them know my daughter is thriving. Of course, it would be up to my daughter to pursue any relationships in the long run.

I think to have any conversation or story about Chinese adoptions and not to mention the one child policy is to leave out a major portion of the story.

Beverly, what we DO know was that family planning recently was exposed for stealing children to sell for foreign adoptions. We also know that many thousands of children each year (male and female) are kidnapped, mainly for the purpose of unregistered adoptions inside of China. Chinese couples also deal with high rates of infertility and desire to parent and surely all of the NSN children would have been placed domestically if the program had made domestic adoptions a complete priority. We also know that a new trend has emerged where more healthy males than ever have made their way into the ICA program. Do you think these children would have also been drown/murdered at birth? Do you honestly feel that children who are worth so much on the black market within China would have been murdered during the last ten years?
I think we need to recognize all factors before we start excusing the serious crimes that this multi-billion dollar industry has caused and if you continue to justify and excuse these behaviours then you yourself are enabling.
For those opposed to the brutal pop. policy, recognize that what ICA did/does is assist and add wealth to the pockets of the enforcers.

Brain Stuy's comment makes for a sensational story, but where is the follow-up question? Where would the babies be if not in the orphanage for international adoption? Maybe in a orphange that does not place for international adoption? These children more than likely end up orphans for life with very low status in Chinese society. Maybe they would be aborted? Maybe they would be drowned at birth or left in a field to die as has been witnessed by and reported by the Chinese journalist Xinran? We do know that there is a one-child policy (two children in some rural areas)and that many of the rural Chinese are too poor to pay the fines for exceeding the limit for children.

@Gunner -
"The CCAA continues to take applications for Chinese adoption and substantial down payments from future parents (over $10K)."

That is complete fiction. Any "down payment" that you may have made was to your adoption agency, if they are claiming it was collected on behalf of the CCAA, then you need a lawyer. CCAA does not see anywhere near that kind of money per child, and neither do they "advertise" wait times - again, U.S. Agency issues, *not* CCAA issues.

Chuck Johnson of NCFA is hardly a good source for unbiased information - NCFA represents primarily adoption agencies and adoptive parents. They have opposed any kind of legislation which would regulate domestic or international adoption, as this is the primary source of income for NCFA. In addition, they oppose any changes in state laws regarding opening access to original birth certificates or records by filing lawsuits against such legislation. Thanks to NCFA, millions of adopted persons (such as myself) encounter legal barriers at every turn when we try to find family medical information.

Should you do any more stories on adoption, you might check with Adam Pertman at the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, or with the American Adoption Congress.

Chuck Johnson of NCFA is hardly a good source for unbiased information - NCFA represents primarily adoption agencies and adoptive parents. They have opposed any kind of legislation which would regulate domestic or international adoption, as this is the primary source of income for NCFA. In addition, they oppose any changes in state laws regarding opening access to original birth certificates or records by filing lawsuits against such legislation. Thanks to NCFA, millions of adopted persons (such as myself) encounter legal barriers at every turn when we try to find family medical information.

Should you do any more stories on adoption, you might check with Adam Pertman at the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, or with the American Adoption Congress.

As a prospective parent who has been deceived by the Chinese International adoption scam your story failed to comment on an important fact. The CCAA continues to take applications for Chinese adoption and substantial down payments from future parents (over $10K). Yet the wait for a Chinese baby is more than 7 years at the current rate of child placement by the CCAA. When applying for adoption from China the wait is advertised as No More Than 18 to 24 months. We have been in line since Feb 2007 and don't expect to be able to adopt for another 5 + years. On a very interesting side note we decided to name our Chinese baby Tessa (same name a Tess V) and our own natural born son is named Kai after Kai Ryssdal. Learning today that you have a daughter from China was too much of a coincidence (as well as the fact that we were both in the Navy- USS Nimitz/Stennis/Connie HS-8 helo pilot 1995-2000).

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