Take My Daughter: Confessions of a Chinese baby trafficker

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    The international adoption scandal was widely reported across China.

    - Marketplace

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    Duan Yueneng and his mother live in a city in Hunan province called Hengyang in China.

    - Cecilia Chen / Marketplace

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    Convicted baby trafficker Duan Yueneng.

    - Cecilia Chen / Marketplace

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    Duan Yueneng's mother

    - Cecilia Chen / Marketplace

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    Petition documents from Duan Yuneng

    - Cecilia Chen / Marketplace

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    A Proof of Abandonment document

    - Marketplace

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    Duan Yueneng sits together with his mother while talking about baby selling as a family business

    - Cecilia Chen / Marketplace

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    A sample of orphanage logs

    - Marketplace

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    A receipt sample

    - Marketplace

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    Duan's family brought the baby from Wuchuan, Guangdong province, 621 miles away from Changning, Hunan province.

    - google.com

Convicted baby trafficker Duan Yueneng.

A receipt sample

Duan Yueneng's mother

"Do you want to take my daughter?"

Convicted baby trafficker Duan Yueneng uttered those words moments after I stepped into his apartment to interview him. As far as I could tell (and my assistant Cecilia Chen next to me), Mr. Duan was not kidding. His daughter, by the way, stood about five feet away. This man has been busted for selling Chinese baby girls, and he's trying to offload his own child. I declined.

"My second baby was a girl," Duan said. "Because the one-child policy was very strict then, I wanted to get rid of her, so that I still have a chance to have a baby boy. After all, you need to have a boy.

"My mother didn't want to abandon her, nor did my mother-in-law. I tried a couple times putting my second daughter on the street but nobody wanted her. I finally took her back. Now she's 15 as you see."

Illegal adoptions a 'demand-driven market'

Duan kept a straight face throughout the interview. He described the international adoption economy as a demand-driven market. Parents from America and elsewhere wanted to adopt Chinese infants. These parents paid $3,000 to the child's orphanage, under Chinese rules. Naturally, orphanages supplied babies, in some cases buying babies from Duan, the supplier.

His mother was part of the action, too. She was transporting infants from Zhanjiang, Guangdong -- where they bought babies from another supplier -- to Changning, Hunan. A 600-mile trip.

"We put six babies in three big powdered milk cardboard boxes," Duan's mother told us during the interview. "We put two babies in each box. My daughter went with me. We boarded the train at Zhanjiang station. In the middle of the trip, one box fell. Then, I started feeding them, one after another. Each of us was holding one baby and we had other four babies in two boxes."

Exposing the paper trail

Then came the documents from Duan's official court file. Orphanage receipts revealed when babies changed hands and for how much. Bank transfers accompanied the receipts, often the money went to an account in the name of Duan's aunt. Orphanage logs showed when infants arrived, and who brought them. Often the deliverer -- the official baby finder -- was one of Duan's sisters. Or his mother. In other words, these babies were not found in the neighborhood by a good Samaritan, as the typical narrative would put it. They were sold to the orphanage.

The papers we saw -- just a portion of Duan's court file -- showed at least one baby delivered by the traffickers was adopted by an American couple. We saw their names, their adoption papers, official copies of their passports, but chose not to name them in the story. What if they don't want to know?

Breaking through China's lack of transparency

When I moved to China in early 2007, a fellow foreign journalist described China this way:

"It's like looking through three panes of glass. You can't get very close." Indeed, it can be maddeningly difficult to get near the real action, the real players.

In this case, many sources spoke to us on condition of anonymity. The Chinese government refused to talk for the record, as did every orphanage director we tried. We called the lead adoption ministry in China several times before someone even confirmed basic facts about Chinese adoption policy. We showed up at one Hunan orphanage, and after the director sat us down, offered us tea and took our business cards, he declared himself "too busy" for an interview.

Even basic adoption and orphanage numbers are scarce: one Chinese scholar in the field told us this is such a sensitive topic even he can't get access to the numbers.

Research shows the problem might not be getting much better. Dutch social worker Ina Hut says we may never know even if it does. Hut used to direct the largest adoption agency in Holland. When the Hunan scandal broke, Hut told me she sought an independent investigation in China, to see if any trafficked babies ended up going to Holland. She says Chinese officials denied her, as did her home government. When Hut pushed the issue, she says Dutch officials warned her it would endanger relations with China. And, she says, Dutch officials vowed to revoke her agency's adoption license if she persisted. Hut quit last year in protest.

For more on this story, listen to my radio report and read more reactions from American families with adopted Chinese babies.

Convicted baby trafficker Duan Yueneng.

A receipt sample

Duan Yueneng's mother

Log in to post16 Comments


"What if they don't want to know?" Although this information can be difficult to learn, I would argue that this is a vital part of the child's story and she has a right to this information, even if it is difficult for the parents and child. As an adult Korean adoptee, I would want to know this information. It is part of her story and she deserves to have access to this information.

Ironically, now the US is mainly adopting older children and special needs children, not those who have been "sold". So in fairness to adoptive parents, many now are adopting and providing a family to the many kids who had no chance at all from the get go. Our own daughter was 12 when adopted and had been in the orphanage since age 3.

Thanks for digging up some "old" news. I fail to see where your report supports any new evidence of trafficking. If you want a news tip on some more "recent" news about Chinese adoption, how about a story on the thousands of people in the US (and across the world) who were conned by international adoption agencies and CCAA into believing they would be able to adopt a child from China only to have their money taken and their dreams dashed. What was supposed to be a 15-18 month wait has turned into a never ending nightmare of lies and false promises. The real crime is that the Chinese government and international adoption agencies are still "open for business" and taking money from those who are unaware of the real situation.
As a parent of a chinese daughter and having been through the emotional roller coaster of international adoption, why dont you inform the public about the "criminal" activities of these international adoption agencies going on right here at home.

I think you're absolutely right Al. I also agree with Margie though. "Kids who need families should have them" - describes all kids (obviously). "Kids who have families should keep them" - so sad that this is just not reality. There are so many abusive situations in the world. This is simply one more example.

Just because someone gets pregnant and has a child does not mean they are fit to parent that child. In many cases, quite the opposite.

Don't get me wrong. I don't advocate ANYONE giving up a baby. There are plenty of stories from both sides of this. But let's not fall into the easy conclusion that any of these kids would be better off with their supposed "natural parents". If they were stolen that's one thing. If they were sold on the open market that's another.

But Al probably has it right. These kids are treasured by their adoptive parents no matter the circumstances of their birth. Let's think of the kids first and foremost.

@Margie: I agree with you regarding Scott's research - kudos to him en masse! On the other hand, though, don't forget the thousands of little girls who have been adopted by loving, best intentioned parents here in the U.S. and elsewhere. We didn't pay for our babies anymore than someone who paid a hospital for services rendered during a birth. Unfortunate as it obviously is, there is mind numbing, stomach churning evil out there in the world. Yes, some may have literally sold babies (OMG!!). Absolutely despicable. But for those that may have been sold, I wish them all a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life, and my best guess is that they have a much better chance with their real, adoptive parents. Just my two cents.

I nominate Scott Tong for an Angels in Adoption award, because he's the first journalist that has had the guts to tell the intercountry adoption story in a way that will leave no doubt that it is a business, and one that is badly broken to boot. Kids who need families should have them. Kids who have families should keep them. Why is this so hard for the world to get???


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