Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Growing Up in China

From USA Today:

GUANGZHOU, China — The White Swan is empty. The five-star hotel here that
historically has housed American couples looking to adopt Chinese babies now only sees a slow trickle of would-be foster [sic] parents after the Chinese adopted a raft of stricter rules a few years back. The cribs and baby strollers the hotel lends out sit idle. The tables in its 1980s-era lounge overlooking the Pearl River are gloomily vacant.

None of this bodes well for American couples looking to adopt here, but it highlights the progress China has made as social mores here shift for the better.

Since 1989, China has sent more orphans — over 70,000 — to the United States than any other country. American couples flock here because its system is far smoother and more transparent than most. And China's one-child policy has resulted in millions of baby girls left abandoned, not to mention millions more aborted. The likelihood that your adopted girl is an actual orphan and does not suffer from, say, prenatal alcohol syndrome, is greater in China than most places. And let's face it, Chinese babies are cute — something the authorities here play up. (Why else would they pick a cute girl to lip-sync the Chinese national anthem at the Olympics?) But adoptions are down dramatically, as a result of the restrictions imposed in 2007: just fewer than 4,000 Chinese babies were adopted by American couples last year, about half the total in 2005.

Much is fair game to disqualify prospective parents: Age (nobody under 30), marital history and sexual orientation all matter now. Even issues of health — being overweight or taking antidepressants — can nix a couple's application. That has Americans frustrated.

* * *

But China's new adoption rules, while onerous, simply reflect its evolution into a more modern society. After all, Beijing is well within its right to decide its own rules and weed out unhealthy parents. Why shouldn't it try to prevent its orphans from inhaling secondhand smoke? China also appears to be relaxing its laws on the number of children Chinese families can have. . .

As income levels in China rise, more couples are just breaking the one-child policy and paying the fine (about $5,000). Adoptions by Chinese couples are up. And social attitudes are evolving, too, resulting in fewer parents discarding their daughters. Half the Sky Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit, reports that fewer healthy babies are entering its orphanages in China.

Of course, data are difficult to verify, but these anecdotal trends are positive. What's more, the notion of American foster [sic] parents rescuing abandoned orphans from Dickensian state-run institutions, while romantic, may be somewhat overblown. "Unfortunately, this story is largely fiction," E.J. Graff of Brandeis University wrote recently in Foreign Policy.

Most orphans are older than 5, sick or disfigured — not the kind most Westerners want. Think of the baby in the newspaper staring up at readers with a cleft lip.

Even so, it seems unfair: At a time when a California woman makes headlines for giving birth to octuplets, there are thousands of infertile American couples for whom foreign adoption remains their best — and least costly — option for parenthood. Their prospects are only exacerbated by China's tougher regulations.

But it signals good news for Chinese society, which is becoming more welcoming toward its newborn daughters and domestic adoption. Were the White Swan to close, nobody in China would probably mind.

It would be harder to find a more offensive piece highlighting a positive trend, I'd think. Can't wait for this guy to get inundated with hate mail from the parents of cleft-affected children, for example!

Add the internal inconsistencies -- there are fewer children in orphanages, but the reason adoptions are down are because of stricter standards imposed on adoptive parents? Huh? And China is imposing draconian rules to weed out adoptive parents but enticing them with cute girls lip-synching at the Olympics?! Then there are the inaccuracies -- the references to adoptive parents as "foster parents" suggest the author knows little about adoption -- that's pretty basic terminology to screw up.

Then there's the stuff glossed over or deliberately obfuscated -- yes, the Graff article in Foreign Policy debunks the myth of millions of healthy orphan infants waiting for rescue, but she says barely anything about China! Indeed, in talking about this myth, she says quite clearly, "The exception is China." We have a mention here that Half the Sky has seen the numbers decline in its orphanages -- how many orphanages is that exactly?!

I can be pretty hard on adoptive parents with a rescue mentality, or who feel entitled to adopt from China; and I've said before that I'm pleased that trends suggest fewer abandonments and increased domestic adoption in China. Nonetheless, THIS opinion piece is just awful! It's so easy to poke holes in the piece that it does more harm than good to his message that fewer international adoptions from China is a good thing (a sentiment I largely agree with!).


Spring said...

"fewer international adoptions from China is a good thing"

I'm with you, Malinda.

Melissa Ward said...

Not to mention...they are still working on 2006 "applications" to adopt. No where near May 2007, where the new rules come into play.

Lynne said...

"China also appears to be relaxing its laws on the number of children Chinese families can have. . ." That's contrary to what I have read. Malinda, do you know the facts on this one?

malinda said...


One change that sort of "fits" that statement -- adopting a child no longer counts as an over-quota child. So if you have one, you can adopt another without being over-quota. Other than that, I don't know of a change from the one-family, one-child (or sometimes two) policy.

Freya said...

More info for Lynne:

-If the spouses are only children they are allowed to have 2 children.
-If your first child is a girl and you live in rural China you're allowed to have another child.
-If you belong to an ethnic minority you can have up to 3 children.