They Got It All Wrong

Post #1
February 19, 2013

They Got it All Wrong
by Joshua Zhong

The newly-released 2012 Annual Report on Inter-country Adoption by the Office of Children’s Issues of the U.S. State Department relayed yet another depressing piece of news to the adoption community and millions of children waiting for a forever family: Compared with 2011, inter-country adoption has seen another 7% decrease (http://adoption.state.gov/content/pdf/fy2012_annual_report.pdf). This marks the seventh consecutive annual drop of international adoptions by American families since 2006.

As the numbers keep dropping, politicians, adoption advocates, adoption agencies, the media, and adoptive families start to point fingers, trying to locate the causes behind the continuing slow-down of international adoption.

Some blame the Hague Convention for leveling unrealistic and unreasonable adoption requirements and financial burden on adoption countries and agencies alike in the name of protecting orphans around the world.

Others blame the U.S government for not standing up to the Hague Treaty and for being too harsh on countries who have been trying hard to meet Hague and US requirements.

Some blame UNICEF for keeping orphans and abandoned children in an institutionalized orphanage environment in the name of protecting the children’s cultural heritage, despite the likelihood that such cultures may mean “nothing but death” to these children.

Some blame the corrupt and heartless politicians in other countries for not caring for their homeless children and using these very unfortunate children as bargaining chips with the US.

And still others blame the Council on Accreditation for monopolizing the Hague accreditation market and, consequently and unintentionally forcing many adoption agencies, especially smaller agencies, to either take on an unbearable financial burden, shut down their services, or transfer their high costs to adoptive families, who then are scared away by outrageous adoption expenses.

Looking at the overall international adoption landscape, all these accusations may have their own validity and be applicable to one country or another. However, as far as adoption from China is concerned, they’ve got it all wrong.

Overpopulation in the government-run orphanages as a result of the One-Child Policy forced China to publish its first-ever adoption law, which opened China’s doors to international adoption in 1992. Since then, and to this day, it can be safely said that no country in the past two decades has been more committed to international adoption than China.

  • China was one of the original participants at the Hague Convention (May 29, 1993) on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption. China deposited its instrument of ratification of the Hague Convention on September 16, 2005, as the 67th State to join this global Convention, two years ahead of the US (http://www.hcch.net/index_en.php?act=conventions.status&cid=69).
  • China works closely with UNICEF and enjoys a very cooperative relationship in promoting the interests of orphaned children (http://www.unicefchina.org/en/).
  • The Chinese government, as represented by the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the China Center for Children’s Welfare & Adoption (CCCWA), is a strong supporter of international and domestic adoption and has built China’s international adoption program into a world model, despite many challenges throughout the years (www.mca.gov.cn and www.ccaa.cn).

However, since the peak year of 2005, when China placed close to 14,000 orphans internationally, adoption numbers from China have been on a gradual decline, with a meager 3,311 placements in 2012.

Then, if it is not for the afore-mentioned reasons, what is causing the continued decline of China’s international adoption?

To quote political campaign strategist James Carville: It’s the economy, stupid.

When I left China in 1989, China’s GDP was $3.04 trillion. My salary as an English teacher was ¥54 (about $7.00) per month. In 1992, when China first opened its doors to international adoption, China’s GDP was $4.99 trillion, ranked #9 in the world standings. Fast-forward to the end of 2011… China was ranked #2, with an annual GDP of more than $7.2 trillion, just behind the US ($15.7 trillion in 2012). According to a report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC) on February 10, 2013, China’s GDP, measured on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, will be nearly $20 trillion, surpassing the comparable figure for the US to become the largest economy in the world.

The astonishing economic success in China is transforming the once poor and closed Chinese society at an unprecedented scale and speed. People’s living standards are quickly rising; people’s attitudes toward the traditional larger family and girls are rapidly changing, i.e family size is getting smaller and girls are more valued; people are becoming more receptive to the practice of domestic adoption; the government’s once-rigid One-Child Policy is becoming more lenient and many families are able to work around the system and keep their over-quota births. This all boils down to one thing: fewer and fewer healthy girls are abandoned every year.

While China’s international adoption program reached its peak in 2005 with about 14,000 placements, China’s domestic adoption numbers reached over 30,000 the same year. But since then, both domestic and international adoption have been on a decline from -2.7% to -22% annually, except in 2009 where domestic adoption saw a 4% increase and 2012 when international adoption to the US saw a 4.2% increase, which was mainly a result of the increased placement of children with special needs (China National Statistics by the Ministry of Civil Affairs).

Before 2006, the wait time for a child match for international adoption from China was under 12 months. By the end of 2006, in less than a year, the time frame had expanded to 18 months. And it kept growing.

To prevent the wait time from getting out of control, China decided to publish a new set of more restrictive adoption qualifications in December 2006 and implemented it in May 2007. This was not an anti-international adoption move. It was purely a realistic calculation in the face of a shrinking pool of available adoptable children.

It is worth noticing that even the Chinese government was not anticipating the quick decline of the orphan population. In mid 2006, the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs launched the very ambitious ¥1.5 billion (about $250 million) Blue Sky Project to renovate, expand or build new and larger orphanages across the country. As of the end of 2011, a total of ¥1.7 billion collected through the national charity lottery had been spent on 452 orphanages which had added 50,000 additional beds. Ironically, many of these orphanages sit half empty today, with over 90% of their children with medical conditions.

The thing is, whatever is happening in China is great for the children: Fewer and fewer abandonments. Isn’t that what we are working for?

China is a huge adoption country and with 3,311 international placements in 2012, it is still the largest international adoption country in the world. Its rise and fall predicate and dominate the overall rise and fall of international adoption worldwide.

Yes, it may be true that burdensome regulations and practices by the Hague Convention, the naïve emphasis on keeping cultural heritage by UNICEF, politicians’ low motivation and corruption in many adoption countries, and a whole bunch of other possible causes have contributed one way or another to the current “depressing” international adoption situation, but the economic success in China, as well as in some other countries such as Russia, South Korea, and Vietnam, has no doubt played a very important, but often neglected role.

Of course, what has happened recently with the Russian government’s sudden suspension of its international adoption program is more of a nationalistic nostalgia than genuine care for its orphans — truly a great sadness for all and especially for the thousands of vulnerable children.

It is my belief that the unavoidable and yet very exciting trend of international adoption is that it will continue to decline as more and more countries are able to focus their attention and energy on growing and strengthening their economies, as people become more self-reliant economically so they no longer have to make the painful decision of keeping or abandoning their children, and as the protection of the interest of children around the world finally becomes a respected norm in many formally poverty-driven, war-torn, and politically unstable countries.

Adoption is about giving a homeless child a loving and permanent home. Adoption is a charity that meets a specific need in so far as there are still orphaned and abandoned children around the world looking for a caring family. However, adoption is not about finding babies for families. It should be other way around. Adoption is not about imperialistically forcing other countries to open their doors to us all the time simply because we want to adopt. Adoption is not about trying with all our might to keep adoptions going simply because many loving families are willing to fill adoption agencies’ pockets with money.

From the day CCAI was established in 1992, I have been praying daily that I would be out of a job soon. International adoption is beautiful, but temporary. The day that we lose our jobs will truly be a day of joy and celebration for all children.

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Joshua Zhong is the President and Co-Founder of CCAI.
This is a personal post. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should they be attributed to, CCAI.