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Some of the children that end up in orphanages are believed to have been seized by family planning officials and sold to orphanages, who in turn sell the babies to adopting parents, many from the United States, for around $3,000 in $100 bills. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, September 28. 2009]

A migrant worker from Hunan Province whose daughter taken in 2005 and later found to be living in the United States said, “Our children were exported abroad like they were factory products.” Orphanages that receive the money say the money goes for food, clothing, medicine and building upkeep but in most cases the babies are taken by foster parents who receive $30 month and the orphanages are grim places that look as if little money has been spent on them or their occupants.

Family planing officials may be able to impose fines and force abortions but they don’t have the right to seize children even though they tell villagers they do have the right and villagers believe them. In some cases the officials trick barely literate villagers into signing paperwork that hands over their children to orphanages. In other cases officials switched from seizing animals to seizing babies after they became aware that orphanages sold babies to adopting parents for $3,000.

The remote village of Tianxi in undeveloped Guizhou Province has been a target for family planning officials in search of children, There officials often showed up at least once a week — even though reaching the villages require a two hour trip on difficult mountains road and a hike into the mountains — keeping an ear out for crying babies and looking for diapers on cloth lines and other evidence of babies.

Kidnapped Children and the One Child Policy

The mother of a four-month-old girl in Tianxi told the Los Angeles Times that one day in 2004 an official showed up at her doorstep, demanding that she “bring out the baby.” The woman was alone and unable to resist. As he walked to his car with baby the official told her, “I’m going to sell the baby for foreign adoption. I can get a lot of money for her.” In return he told her the family wouldn’t have to pay any fines for breaking the one child policy but warned her: “Don’t tell anyone.”

The grandmother of a four-month-old girl who was taken in 2003 in Huangxin village in Hunan Province by a dozen official who raided her house told the Los Angeles Times, “they grabbed the baby and dragged me out of the house. I was screaming — I thought they were going to knock me over.”

A construction worker told the Los Angeles Times he knew his six-month-old daughter was taken to the Changsha Social Welfare Institute in Hunan Province. “They wouldn’t even let me in the door,” he said, For three year he tried to get in. Finally one day the told him, “It’s too late. Your daughter has already gone to America.”

The Tianxi cases were revealed by a teacher with relatives in Tianxi, He reported the seizing of babies to the police and a disciplinary agency, When he got no response he posted complaints on the Internet that were picked up by the national media. Afterwards the teacher went into hiding out of fear of retaliation. The officials were based in the town of Zhenyuan, where orphanages had sent 60 children to the United States. The U.S. Embassy reported that the implicated officials were arrested but the officials involved told the Los Angeles Times no one was arrested or fired.

Other cases of child seizure have been reported in the village of Gaoping in Hunan Province by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. Some of officials there were relocated but none were arrested. None of the 15 sets of parents that lost babies got their children back. In some cases the victims have been migrant workers with only one child whose residency permits were not in order. One such worker described by the Los Angeles Times had his only child taken by men who raided his house when the child was being taken care of by grand parents.

Illegal Children Will Be Confiscated

“Before 1997 they usually punished us by tearing down our houses for breaching the one-child policy. After 2000 they began to confiscate our children.” Thus Yuan Chaoren, a villager from Longhui county in Hunan province, describing in Caixin magazine the behaviour of family-planning bureaucrats. According to Caixin, local officials would take “illegal children” and pack them off to orphanages where they were put up for adoption. Foreign adoptive parents paid $3,000-5,000 per child. The bureaucrats collected a kickback. [Source: The Economist July 21, 2011]

The Economist reported: ‘stealing children is not an official part of Beijing’s one-child policy, but it is a consequence of rules that are a fundamental affront to the human rights of parents and would-be parents. The policy damages families and upsets the balance between generations. It is so hated that even within China it is now coming under political attack. For the first time a whole province, Guangdong, with a population of over 100 million, is demanding exemptions.”

The New York Times reported: “China’s family planning policies, while among the strictest in the world, ban the confiscation of children from parents who exceed birth quotas, and abuses on the scale of those in Shaoyang are far less common today than they once were. Even so, critics say the powers handed to local officials under national family planning regulations remain excessive and ripe for exploitation.

“The larger issue is that the one-child policy is so extreme that it emboldened local officials to act so inhumanely,” Wang Feng, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who directs the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in Beijing, told the New York Times.

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Missing children poster

Abandoned Children or Kidnapped Children

The practice of child seizure has raised questions about whether the children in orphanages said to have been abandoned were really taken by authorities. Among the flags that something is not right are the fact that parents were said to have given up their children after taking long trek through the mountains in the winter and the fact that the suspicious children tend to be several month old. Brian Stuy, and American man researching the origin of adopted Chinese children, told the Los Angeles Times, “If you don’t want a girl, you give her up as soon as she is born.”

Ina Hut, the head of a Dutch adoption agency, told the Los Angeles Times, “In the beginning, I think adoption from China was a very good thing because there were so many abandoned girls. But then it became a supply-and-demand-driven market and a lot of people at the local level were making too much money.”

Stuy told the Los Angeles Times, “Iinternational adoption is creating the suction that causes family planning to take the kids to make money. If there was no international adoption and the state had to raise the kids until they turned 18, you would be sure family planning would not confiscate them.” People familiar with the issue say the best way to clampdown on the practice is to scrutinize where the money from the adopted parents goes.

One woman who had her baby seized and found out she was in America told the Los Angeles Times, “Everybody in the village adored her. She had big eyes like saucers and a smile for everybody she saw. I think of her all the time. I wonder if she looks like an American now.” Like others in her situation she realized it would be next to impossible for her Americanized daughter to come back and live with her in a poor Chinese village but she said she would like to know how her daughter was doing and maybe get a picture. “We’d like to know where she is...And we;d like her to know that we miss her and that we didn’t throw her away.”

Chinese Officials Seized and Sold Babies

Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times,” In a scandal that has drawn widespread coverage, parents and grandparents claim that officials from Longhui, a county in Hunan Province that is administered by Shaoyang, illegally seized at least 16 children between 1999 and 2006 because of allegations that family planning rules were violated. Caixin Century Weekly, a Chinese magazine, reported in May 2011 that some were later adopted by foreigners.

Reporting from Longhui County, Lafraniere wrote: “Many parents and grandparents in this mountainous region of terraced rice and sweet potato fields have long known to grab their babies and find the nearest hiding place whenever family planning officials show up. Too many infants, they say, have been snatched by officials, never to be seen again. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, August 4, 2011]

But Yuan Xinquan was caught by surprise one December morning in 2005. Then a new father at the age of 19, Mr. Yuan was holding his 52-day-old daughter at a bus stop when a half-dozen men sprang from a white government van and demanded his marriage certificate.

He did not have one. Both he and his daughter’s mother were below the legal age for marriage. Nor did he have 6,000 renminbi, then about $745, to pay the fine he said they demanded if he wanted to keep his child. He was left with a plastic bag holding her baby clothes and some powdered formula. “They are pirates,” he said.

Mr. Yuan’s daughter was among at least 16 children who were seized by family planning officials between 1999 and late 2006 in Longhui County, an impoverished rural area in Hunan, a southern Chinese province, parents, grandparents and other residents said in interviews last month.

Parents in Longhui say that local government officials treated babies as a source of revenue, routinely imposing fines of $1,000 or more “five times as much as an average local family’s yearly income. If parents could not pay the fines, the babies were illegally taken from their families and often put up for adoption by foreigners, another big source of revenue.

The practice in Longhui came to an end in 2006, parents said, only after an 8-month-old boy fell from the second-floor balcony of a local family planning office as officials tried to pluck him from his mother’s arms. Despite a few news reports outside the Chinese mainland about government-sanctioned kidnappings in Longhui and other regions, China’s state-controlled media ignored or suppressed the news until this May, when Caixin , an intrepid Chinese magazine well known for unusually bold investigations, reported the abductions and prompted an official inquiry.

Government Officials Take Child and Force Mother to be Sterilized

Reports that family planning officials stole children, beat parents, forcibly sterilized mothers and destroyed families’ homes sowed a quiet terror through parts of Longhui County in the first half of the past decade. The casualties of that terror remain suffused with heartbreak and rage years later. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, August 4, 2011]

Hu Shelian, 46, another anguished victim, gave birth to a second daughter in 1998. Even though family planning specialists said couples in her area were allowed a second child if the first was a girl, she said family planning officials broke her windows and took her television as punishment.

After she had a third daughter the following year, they levied a whopping fine of nearly $5,000. When she pleaded poverty, she said, four officials snatched her newborn from her arms, muscled her into a car and drove her to the county hospital for a forced tubal ligation. Her baby disappeared into the bowels of the Shaoyang orphanage. Xiong Chao escaped that fate. Villagers say he was the last baby that officials tried to snatch, and one of the few returned home.

Now, six years later, his 63-year-old grandmother, Dai Yulin, patiently scrawls blue and white chalk numerals on her concrete wall hoping “in vain “that Chao will learn them. “He has been to primary school for a whole year,” she said, “and he still cannot recognize one and two.” Nearby is the tiny, dark room where, she said, she tried and failed in September 2006 to hide Chao from family planning officials. He was 8 months old, her son’s second child. Officials demanded nearly $1,000, then took him away when she could not pay.

His mother, Du Chunhua, rushed to the family planning office to protest. There, as she struggled with two officials on the second-floor balcony, she said, the baby slipped from her grasp and fell more than 10 feet, to the pavement below. Later, she said, as the baby lay in a coma in the hospital, his forehead permanently misshapen, officials offered a deal: they would forget about the fine as long as the family covered the medical bills for Chao. Also, they said, the Xiongs could keep him.

Government Officials Take the Nine-Month-Old Daughter of a Migrant Worker

Yang Libing, one of the two fathers accused of soliciting prostitutes, said he was a migrant worker in the southern city of Shenzhen when his firstborn, Yang Ling, was stolen from his parents’ home in May 2005 when she was 9 months old. Family planning officials apparently spotted Yang Ling’s clothes hung to dry outside the family’s mud-brick home. Her grandmother tried to hide her in a pigsty, but the grandfather, Yang Qinzheng, a Communist Party member and a former soldier, bade her to come out. “I don’t disobey,” he said last month. “I do what the officials say.” [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, August 4, 2011]

Yang Ling’s parents had not registered their marriage. To keep the baby, the officials said, the elder Mr. Yang would have to pay nearly $1,000, on the spot. Otherwise, they said, he would have to sign away the girl with a false affidavit stating that he was not her biological grandfather. “I was totally outraged,” he said, but “I did not have the courage to resist. They do not play by the rules.” He signed the document.

Yang Libing discovered the loss of his daughter during his monthly telephone call home from a pay phone on a Shenzhen street. “Is she behaving?” he asked cheerily. The answer, he said, made him physically sick. After racing home, he said, he begged family planning officials to let him pay the fine. They said it was too late. When he protested, he said, a group of more than 10 men beat him. Afterward, the office director offered a compromise: although their daughter was gone forever, the Yangs would be allowed to conceive two more children.

“I can’t even describe my hatred of those family planning officials,” Mr. Yang said. “I hate them to my bones. I wonder if they are parents, too. Why don’t they treat us as humans?” Asked whether he was still searching for his daughter, he replied: “Of course! This is not a chicken. This is not a dog. This is my child.”

Government Cover Up of Chinese Officials who Seized Babies

Zeng Dingbao, who leads the Inspection Bureau in Shaoyang, the city that administers Longhui County, has promised a diligent investigation. But signs point to a whitewash. In June, he told People’s Daily Online, the Web version of the Communist Party’s official newspaper, that the situation “really isn’t the way the media reported it to be, with infants being bought and sold.”

Rather than helping trace and recover seized children, parents say, the authorities are punishing those who speak out. Two of the most vocal fathers were detained for 15 days in Shaoyang on charges of soliciting prostitutes at a brothel. Released last month, the two men, Yang Libing, 47, and Zhou Yinghe, 34, said they had been entrapped. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, August 4, 2011]

Mr. Yang said he was constantly followed by government minders. Mr. Zhou said the village party secretary had warned him to stop talking to reporters about the abduction of his 3-month-old daughter in March 2003 or face more punishment. “They are like organized criminals,” Mr. Zhou said.

Child Abductions and Adoptions in China

The scandal also has renewed questions about whether Americans and other foreigners have adopted Chinese children who were falsely depicted as abandoned or orphaned. At least one American adoption agency organized adoptions from the government-run Shaoyang orphanage. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, August 4, 2011]

Lillian Zhang, the director of China Adoption With Love, based in Boston, said by telephone last month that the agency had found adoptive parents in 2006 for six Shaoyang children “all girls, all renamed Shao, after the city. The Chinese authorities certified in each case that the child was eligible for adoption, she said, and her agency cannot now independently investigate their backgrounds without a specific request backed by evidence. “I’m an adoption agency, not a policeman,” Ms. Zhang said.

The Shaoyang welfare agency’s orphanage is required to post a notice of each newly received child for 60 days in Hunan Daily, a newspaper delivered only to subscribers in Longhui County. Unclaimed children are renamed with the surname Shao and approved for adoption. Foreign parents who adopt must donate about $5,400 to the orphanage.

Twelve Fired after Adoption Inquiry

Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times, “Twelve government employees have been fired and stripped of their Communist Party membership after an investigation into allegations that family planning officials kidnapped children Longhui, People’s Daily reported.” [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, September 29, 2011]

While investigators concluded that the government workers did not engage in “baby trading,” they did find “severe violations” of regulations, according to the newspaper’s Web site, People’s Daily Online. A Hunan-based Web news portal said the officials were guilty of “negligence and handling work in a simplistic way.”

Government investigators examined 14 cases. In one, parents voluntarily surrendered their child because they were unable to provide care. Five other children were deemed abandoned because the facts about their parentage were hidden by “involved persons,” People’s Daily reported. Eight more were taken because they had been illegally adopted by local families. Investigators found no evidence that the city’s orphanage, the Shaoyang Social Welfare Institute, paid kickbacks to officials who delivered babies, according to the newspaper’s report.

Image Sources: Asia Obscura ; Wiki Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2011

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