Some argue that these payments are a good thing – it prevents babies from being abandoned in unsafe conditions where they may become ill or die before they are found. They further argue that it is the One Child Policy that is inducing birth parents to give the child to the orphanage or an intermediary, not the cash payments. Some argue that it is reasonable for the orphanage to pay cash to finders to compensate them for their inconvenience and expense in bringing the child in.
But others argue that these cash payments to birth parents may be inducing them to relinquish children they might have otherwise raised – not all children born in violation of the One Child Policy are abandoned or relinquished, and what looks like very little money to us could in fact induce relinquishment in China. And, they argue, payments to intermediaries encourages those intermediaries to acquire children in improper and/or illegal ways. We’ve heard of finders for orphanages seeking out babies by contacting hospitals, doctors, midwives, and by seeking out pregnant women by word of mouth. As intermediaries systematically make it known that they are in the market for children, the quid pro quo aspects of intentionally paying money for children seems unmistakable. And there is always the concern that children will be kidnapped and turned over to an orphanage in exchange for a finder’s fee.
Since there are differing opinions, and offering my opinion wouldn't further the debate in any way, I want to focus on something I do know a little about -- the requirements of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption that might be relevant here. I've done some research, so to the extent that legal interpretations are "opinions," mine is an informed opinion!
Article 8 provides that sending and receiving countries shall take all appropriate measures to prevent improper financial or other gain in connection with an adoption and to deter all practices contrary to the objects of the Convention. One of the objects of the Convention, according to Article 1 is to ensure that safeguards are respected to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children.
In addition to that kind of fluff language, the Convention requires specific safeguards. Article 4 provides that before a child can be placed for international adoption, the sending country must:
First of all, the sending country has to make sure the child is adoptable. In China, this has been done by showing that the child was abandoned and the birth parents were searched for and not found. This wouldn’t be all that different from how it would work in the U.S. for an abandoned baby – a birth parent’s parental rights can be terminated on the grounds of abandonment, freeing a child for adoption.
a) have established that the child is adoptable;
c) have ensured that
(1) the persons, institutions and authorities whose consent is necessary for adoption, have been counselled as may be necessary and duly informed of the effects of their consent, in particular whether or not an adoption will result in the termination of the legal relationship between the child and his or her family of origin,
(2) such persons, institutions and authorities have given their consent freely, in the required legal form, and expressed or evidenced in writing,
(3) the consents have not been induced by payment or compensation of any kind.
But with the “incentive program” orphanages, abandonment isn’t what’s happening. The child was not abandoned at all – either the child was brought to the orphanage by the birth family or was given to an intermediary with the understanding that the intermediary would take the child to care for it or to take it to the orphanage. These are not acts of abandonment. In the U.S., if a person were to leave their child with a responsible adult, it wouldn’t be abandonment. Neither would relinquishing a child for adoption be abandonment. So it would seem China needs to prove the child is adoptable for some reason other than abandonment, and that reason would be a consented-to relinquishment.
The Hague Convention has some pretty stringent requirements for a consented-to relinquishment. The birth parents – “persons whose consent is necessary for an adoption” – have to be counseled appropriately and have to be duly informed of the effects of their consent, including the fact that their consent terminates their legal status as parents. Those consents have to be freely given, and must be in writing. And the consents cannot have been induced by payment or compensation of any kind.
The Hague Convention makes it the sending country’s duty to prove these points before a child can be adopted internationally. The Central Authority overseeing adoptions must complete at least a brief investigation into the motives of those placing the child up for adoption to satisfy this requirement. Thus, China would need to investigate each case where money changed hands to make sure that the child would have been abandoned or turned over to the orphanage even if money had not changed hands. If there is evidence of the birth parents receiving money to the extent that it may affect the decision to give consent, the Convention is violated if that adoption is approved.
If children are truly being abandoned, as we once thought was the exclusive way to place a child for adoption in China, these issues with the Hague Convention are not present. That’s probably why China maintains the fiction that this is what’s happening, going to the extent of making up abandonment stories for children in the orphanage (falsifying records is another violation of the Hague Convention, of course).
But China also seems to be moving toward another system for placing children for adoption, a typical system of birth parent relinquishment. But that system falls woefully short of the requirements of the Convention. Birth parents are not likely to be appropriately counseled by the intermediaries looking to find babies for the orphanages. We have no evidence that birth parents coming to the orphanage – or being approached by intermediaries – are consenting IN WRITING to the relinquishment and adoption. And we know that money is changing hands, and the burden is on the sending country to investigate and prove that the money is not what induced the consent. China has done no investigations, because it continues to claim that children in the orphanages are there because their birth parents abandoned them.
I think there is little doubt that China’s use of incentive programs converts the method of placement from abandonment to relinquishment. And those relinquishments are made in circumstances that clearly violate the Hague Convention on a number of fronts. They are not in writing, no counseling has been given to give assurance that relinquishments are voluntary, and there's no one investigating whether relinquishments are induced by money.
On the plus side, if families are already coming to orphanages to relinquish a child, it wouldn't take that much retooling for China to develop a relinquishment-based system that would benefit children in making the possibility of birth parent information and contact possible. First step, get the money out of it.