Friday, August 1, 2008

HBO Documentary: China's Stolen Children

My blog is usually light hearted and funny (well, at least in my own mind...) but tonight I have to diverge onto a serious topic-- the missing children of China.

I knew that the documentary China's Stolen Children was coming out while I was in China adopting Ryan. In fact, Ross, my 17 year old son, had seen a preview for it and told me about it while I was in Guangzhou. This week has been kind of slow for us as we try to settle in (translate: my house looks like a tornado has swept through it as I use jet lag and our trip to not do housework) so I have actually watched some television at times other than 10:00 pm to 12:00 am. In my search for something to watch I went to On Demand and found this documentary on HBO Specials. I knew, of course, that this was not something to be watched with the children around and last night I found myself wide awake at 10:30 with all the younger children in bed and decided to watch.

I had no idea what to expect, in fact I expected to see a documentary about traffickers buying children to sell to orphanages such as what happened in Hunan a few years ago. But there was no mention of International Adoption at all. If anything, I think this documentary helps explain the decrease in children available for IA.

The documentary states that approximately 70,000 children go missing and/or are stolen every year. It follows the case of a 5 1/2 year old boy, Chen Jie, from Kunming, Yunnan province that was stolen 5 months previously. His distraught parents had gone to the police to seek their help. There are over 1000 cases of stolen children in the city and the police, whether due to lack of resources or lack of interest, did little to help. The parents sought the help of Detective Zhu, a former police detective who quit his job to help parents of stolen children. While he has recovered some children, the majority remain missing.

Julia, my 11 year old daughter, was watching this with me and wanted to know why the children were stolen. We soon had the answer: The One Child policy has created a "market" for children. Infertile families are able to buy a child, preferably a boy, for as little at 7,000 RMB ($1000) for a girl to as high as 18,000 RMB for a boy (about $2500). Also, families with a son who realize that their son will have a difficult time finding a wife when it comes time to marry will buy a "daughter" to provide their son with a wife. While these figures seem shockingly low remember that the average yearly income level in China is somewhere between the two figures, depending where they live, even below if they are very rural.

But as one trafficker who is profiled states, the demand exceeds the supply which has the traffickers resorting to stealing children, not that they seem to feel any guilt for this. I admit I was shocked at the lack of compassion, lack of awareness of the gravity as to what they were doing, both with the traffickers and two families who were selling their children.

One of the families was an unmarried couple who were too young to be able to get a marriage permit (the woman was 19 -- women must be 20 and males 22 to marry.) Because they didn't have a marriage permit they didn't qualify to get a birth permit, a requirement to have a child. Without the birth permit the child could not get a birth certificate and would be a "non-person." As a Non-Person the child would not qualify for schooling or health care unless the couple paid the fine for having a child without a permit which they felt like they were unable to pay.

The other family, a mother, was selling her third son because she said she couldn't afford the fine. I am not in a position to judge her situation, I don't know all of the facts, but I couldn't prevent myself from judging anyway. She said she sold her first son for 10,000 RMB and her second son for 18,000. A fine could be 20,000 RMB or less- could she not apply the money from the first two sons to pay the fine for the third? As a mother to 6 children, I cannot imagine facing the decision to sell one of my children. (Especially since I just remortgaged my home to pay for my last adoption) But I also live in the United States of America where I have the right to choose how many children I have and not have my country decide it for me.

As I mentioned previously, I now better understand the reason for the decrease in children available for International Adoption. When families are fully aware that they can sell their children for profit, why would they abandoned them at an orphanage?

I found this documentary disturbing for a variety of reasons. First was the shocking disregard for human life and total obliviousness to the suffering the traffickers were inflicting upon the parents of stolen children or the trauma that they put the stolen children through. (In fact, the trafficker featured in the documentary sold his own second son when his wife died.) Second, that a country would turn their back on the situation and not try to stop this from happening nor try to locate and return the missing children to their families. And third, and most selfishly, how this will affect my adopted children down the road.

Will this raise questions for them or for others to ask them if they, themselves, were stolen? I have given this serious thought and feel that I can assure my 3 adopted children that they were NOT stolen. How can I be sure?

My first daughter, Jenna, was non special need adoption from China. She came from an orphanage that tries to adopt the children out domestically. In fact, only about 50 total children are known to be adopted out internationally from her orphanage. Her paperwork wasn't sent to the CCAA until she turned a year old, later than most babies paperwork is sent, most likely because the director tried to exhaust domestic adoption first. International adoptions are usually more profitable than domestic adoptions so if Jenna had been sold to the orphanage I am sure her paperwork would have been sent as soon as possible for IA.

My second daughter, Emma, is a non special need adoption from Vietnam. Alarm bells are going off in some people's minds with the current state of adoption in Vietnam and the accusations of baby trafficking. But Emma was adopted during the "Great American Embassy Investigation Period" last October. Emma's case was field investigated (along with every other Vietnam adoption last October) and her case was found to not be suspect and her visa was granted. I have no doubt in my mind at all that if the Embassy felt there was any problem at all they would have denied the visa. My travel mate was denied a visa with no evidence at all just a "feeling" so I'm know that if they thought there was a problem we would have been denied. If anything, I was granted a visa faster than many families there-- in one week versus the 2-3 weeks several others waited.

My most recent adoption was Ryan, a special need adoption from China. In a country full of superstition (which is very much alive and continuing even in modern times) having a son with a cleft lip and cleft palate would be a source of shame and would make neighbors think they were cursed. Not to mention that many families just don't have the resources to seek medical care of a child that needs multiple surgeries. His family must have cared about him because they kept him for a little over one month before leaving him at the orphanage gate. Ryan, a coveted boy but with an obvious abnormality, was most assuredly not stolen nor sold.

But nevertheless, some day, people might wonder and even ask about my children's previous circumstances. How do I prepare them for these questions without causing them emotional distress? If you are an adopting family, do you worry about your adopted children and how to deal with these questions?


Stephanie Graham said...

My husband and I are looking into adoption. We would absolutely love to adopt internationally, but we haven't ruled out fostering & adopting domestically either. The Lord willing, we'll be able to do both! I've only read the most recent blogs that you've written & am so touched. I can hardly wait to have a larger family. Right now I have a 9yr old son from a previous marriage and he desperately wants a sibling. (We haven't been able to conceive after 5.5 yrs of trying)
I too have been worried about adopting a child that has been stolen/sold- but I am still in the process of my own heavy investigating online.
Last night I put in a "Google Alert" for international adoption, and today I was alerted of your page. What a blessing. I am so anxious & ready to begin the journey I can hardly stand it. I will try to watch the HBO documentary within the near future.
If you have any advice for someone who is just beginning the adoption journey, please email me anytime.
And thank-you for being such a loving & giving mom! You have truly inspired me.
Warm wishes,
Stephanie Graham from Florida

Kay Bratt said...

Just my opinion, but "what if" your children were stolen? Does that make the fact that they were adopted by you wrong? If no one had adopted them, they would still be at the orphanage and that is no place for a child.

Yes, it is terrible that children are stolen or sold to the orphanages-and it does happen. But to leave them their out of fear that they might not have been makes their life even more unfair. You did the right thing and you should not ever feel a twinge of guilt or fear.

As for the moms selling their children, many many times this is forced upon them by the men. There are even times they try to hide their babies from their men in order to keep them. I have even seen a note that was pinned to a child explaining that because she could not care for her baby girl, she was going to commit suicide. Her child was found in a box under a bridge.

China is a desperate place that forces good people to do desperate things.


Denise said...


First of all, I want to tell you how honored I am that you even took the time to read my blog let alone leave a comment!!! I haven't gotten my copy of Silent Tears yet since I have only been home from China one week but plan to get it this week.

I have struggled with the whole "stolen/sold baby" situation with Vietnam. If you are familiar with that "world" of adoptive parents you will find many extremes of opinions on the situation. There are some that feel that children should be gotten out no matter what the situation is and others feel that if there is even one case of trafficking then ALL adoptions should cease. All should suffer for the situation of one.

I am in the middle. I don't think that trafficking should be ignored but many, many children will suffer and languish in orphanages when American adoptions cease as of September 1st. But I plan to address this in a later post, hopefully this week.

Many parents of Vietnamese children are struggling with "what if my child was sold or stolen?" So I have wrestled with the answers to this question about my own children because I have considered it carefully for about 8 months. (Of course, less time with Ryan, but there was never any doubt with him.)

But bottom line for me is that these children are mine now. Not my possessions but my responsibility to love, nurture, provide their material needs and to protect from any ugliness that they might be confronted with. I don't want them to doubt the the legitimacy of how they came into our family. I don't want them to feel "tainted" or feel that I did anything wrong to get them. My concern is that people in the non-adoptive world will perceive this and try to ask these extremely insensitive questions in the grocery store line. (I've already been asked the gamut from "how much did she cost?" to "why didn't you adopt here?")

I think that we, as adoptive parents, need to be prepared for these questions from outsiders and possibly later, from our children themselves.