Jill Filipovic of Feministe points to a disturbing story by John Leland in last Friday’s New York Times about how parents who adopted children from China are coping with the news of of a baby-stealing scandal in Hunan Province, which was reported by Sharon Lafraniere for the Times in August.
Lafraniere reported that, in 2005, 19-year-old Yuan Xinquan was cradling his infant daughter at a bus stop when he was accosted by bureaucrats demanding to see his marriage certificate. When Yuan was unable to produce the document, or pay a $745 fine, the men took his daughter away. He hasn’t seen her since.
Grieving parents and grandparents told Lafraniere that at least 16 children were wrested from their parents in Longhui County between 1999 and 2006. The kidnapping racket reportedly ended in 2006 after a boy fell from a balcony when officials tried to wrench him from his mother’s arms. The officials are accused of selling the confiscated children for international adoptions.
Parents who thought that China was their best chance for a “clean” international adoption are reeling from the news, John Leland reports. China’s one-child policy and the strong desire of many Chinese families to have their one child be a boy seemed to create a golden opportunity for Westerners to adopt healthy baby girls. There’s no question that many baby girls were adopted after their parents surrendered them to orphanages.
Now, many adoptive parents are wondering if their own children might have been stolen, and, if so, what they should do about it:
Scott Mayer, who with his wife adopted a girl from southern China in 2007, said the article’s implications hit him head on. “I couldn’t really think straight,” Mr. Mayer said. His daughter, Keshi, is 5 years old — “I have to tell you, she’s brilliant,” he said proudly — and is a mainstay of his life as a husband and a father.
“What I felt,” he said, “was a wave of heat rush over me.”
Like many adoptive parents, Mr. Mayer can recount the emotionally exhausting process he and his wife went through to get their daughter, and can describe the warm home they have strived to provide. They had been assured that she, like thousands of other Chinese girls, was abandoned in secret by her birth parents, left in a public place with a note stating her date of birth. [NYT]
Chances are, most of the 64,043 Chinese children adopted to the United States between 1999 and 2010 weren’t stolen from their birth families, in the crudest sense of the term. Lafraniere’s reporting uncovered at least 16 cases of baby theft in Longhui County. Other news accounts estimate that 100 babies were stolen. It is impossible to know whether the Longhui County baby racket was an isolated scheme, or whether it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Focusing on outright theft deflects attention from deeper ethical quandaries surrounding international adoption. Everyone agrees that it’s wrong to steal babies and sell them. But is it okay to adopt a baby whose mother has been forced to give her up because a dictatorial government said she could only have one child and a patriarchal culture said that child had better be a boy?
The pragmatic answer is yes. An orphanage is an alternative to female infanticide, historically a real problem in China. From the child’s perspective, growing up in a loving home is infinitely better than being raised in an institution. The one-child policy will continue whether Americans adopt Chinese children or not. Yet, the one-child policy is coercive. As far as one’s conscience is concerned, is it really that much better to take a woman’s baby if she has been coerced by the state, rather than by corrupt officials?
[Photo credit: SatanYork, Creative Commons.]