As top headlines in China and around the world proclaimed in July 2011, 89 infants and children were recovered from child traffickers within China during this month.
The 89 children were recovered in two separate operations.
The first, on July 15, recovered 8 infants from a Chinese-Vietnamese cross-border trafficking network.
The second, on July 20, recovered 81 children of various ages from a trafficking network entirely within Chinese borders.
First Recovery Action: July 15, 2011
A Joint Action between China and Vietnam Recovering 8 Trafficked Infants
Earlier reports of children being trafficked to Dongxing City in Guangxi initiated an investigation by local and Chinese central authorities.
Because this investigation centered on cross-border criminal activity, in February 2011, a joint task force was set up between Chinese and Vietnamese officials. This joint task force culminated in a law enforcement campaign (involving more than 300 law enforcement officers) that began on July 15, 2011 with the arrests of 39 child abduction/trafficking suspects and the recovery of 8 trafficked infants.
This joint Chinese-Vietnamese law enforcement campaign, concerned with cross border crime involving the abduction and trafficking of children, is scheduled to continue through September 15, 2011.
Indeed, since the first news report detailing the rescue of these 8 children, further investigation has already revealed that the same trafficking network had smuggled a total of 21 abducted infants from Vietnam to China during the period between June 2, 2011 and the July 15, 2011 raid. This is an additional 13 children beyond the 8 reported as recovered.
Though the 8 recovered infants were first reported to have been ages 7 days to 10 months, subsequent reports have stated that the youngest two, with umbilical cords still attached, were under a week old. Most of the babies were boys.
Details of the elaborate reported abduction, smuggling, and trafficking scheme have since been enumerated by an Liu Ancheng, deputy director of the Criminal Investigation Bureau (of ???). It goes like this:
Vietnamese infants were reportedly abducted in Vietnam by Vietnamese nationals. Allegedly drugged so that they would not cry and call attention to themselves, the infants were then reportedly smuggled across the Beilun River (and the Vietnamese-Chinese border) on bamboo rafts. Subsequently, so as to avoid the border checkpoints, the babies were then reportedly transported by bicycle through the fields bordering the Beilun River and on into nearby Chinese towns. Upon arrival in Dongxing or Fangchenggang, the drugged infants then allegedly continued their journey by bus, arriving first in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi Shuang region, and then in the final leg of their journeys, in either Shanewei or Jieyang in Guangdong. The children’s journeys took an average of 20 hours.
A later article alleged that an obstetrician helped care for the babies while they were awaiting sale. (The report did not say where the obstetrician was located.)
Some news reports put the selling price of the trafficked babies at several thousand yuan to tens of thousands of yuan apiece. However, other news reports put the selling price of the trafficked infants at a reported 40,000 yuan each (about US $6,215).
News reports imply that some of these children had already been sold to Chinese families. There are two clues in the news report that imply that this is so. First, Chinese officials’ commentaries state that the Chinese families who bought these babies will not be allowed to keep them. This clearly implies that at least some recovered children were no longer in transit, nor were they awaiting sale, but that they had already been sold. Secondly, at least one news report includes criticism of removing (at least some? of) these infants from their “adopted famil[es].”
“Separating them from their adopted family may be a second blow to their young minds” (Chen Shiqu)
Obviously, you cannot remove a child from an adopted family and worry about the effect of that removal on the child if the child is not yet with the adoptive family.
(Some readers may object to the use of the word “adoptive” here to describe families who bought trafficked children--especially when those children landed in families through channels that were not sanctioned by the government (not legal). However, I am simply reporting the terminology used by the articles themselves. And after all, to the child, who knows nothing of how he/she came to be with the only family he/she has ever consciously known and to whom he/she has bonded, what is the difference? It is the same conscious experience for the child either way. In fact, this is exactly the point that those who criticized removing the children from the adoptive families, were making. Of course, this kind of point is exactly that often made by adoptive families fighting to retain custody of adoptive children when that custody is challenged by original parents seeking the return of their children. But this argument of not disturbing children who are settled can cut both ways. The same adoptive families who argue that they should retain possession of adoptive children for the sake of continuity for the child (when their own custody is being challenged), do not seem to worry about continuity for the child when it comes to the child’s loss of foster families, first families, etc. with whom the child had bonded--often as the only family he/she had ever known--when the child loses that previous family because an adoption is taking places and the child is to be placed in the adoptive family's arms….. So methinks there is here somewhat of a double standard of worry about the effects on a child of loss of family, and that that double standard has almost everything to do with the adults’ interests in the situation. It is easy to imagine what the best interest of a child is when you as an adult stand to benefit from this decision coming out in your favor. But this is another discussion for another post, and, alas, I have digressed… And within the context of this story, that is not point. It's just that I find it ironic that that idea should pop up here where many might find it objectionable. The world's a funny place, no?)
Upon recovery from traffickers and adoptive families, the 8 infants were taken to local hospitals and health centers for observation. At least one news report asserted that five of the eight children were found to have “serious health issues.” Whether these “health issues” were immediate and temporary and due to transport (for example, the effects of having been drugged) or the stresses of recovery (tiny babies have to be fed regularly to avoid dehydration and other ills) or whether they were suffering from more serious long term issues (for any number of reasons), was not stated.
Officials state that efforts will be made to reunite the infants with their Vietnamese parents, and that DNA testing will be utilized to facilitate this. If, however, officials are unable to properly identify the infants, and efforts to reunite them with their parents are ultimately unsuccessful, the infants, according to current Chinese law, because they lack proper verifiable identification, will NOT be eligible for adoption. Unidentified children not ultimately returned to their original parents, will therefore, at least according to current law, grow up in orphanages. Officials quoted in the article seem to understand that this is a disturbing prospect to many.
In fact, Ji Gang, director of Domestic Adoption of the Chinese Welfare and Adoption Center, is quoted as saying that the possibility of ‘conditional adoption’ (which would allow "children whose parents cannot be found within a specified period of time" to be adopted) is being discussed. (Note that this is the director of Chinese DOMESTIC adoption director speaking and that therefore, he is likely implying that children who can not be properly identified and whose parents are not found, would likely become available for DOMESTIC adoption within China.) This idea is of not letting unidentified children get caught in an institutional limbo where they would be ineligible for adoption is echoed in a quote from Chen Shiqu, Director of the Human Trafficking Office in the Ministry of Public Security:
“We are negotiating with civil affairs departments to improve the laws to allow unidentified children to be adopted”
Second Recovery Action: July 20, 2011
Involving 14 Provinces within China, Recovering 81 Trafficked Children
The second recovery action on July 20 was a much more massive affair, involving more than 2,600 law enforcement officers from no less than 14 Chinese provinces, and resulting in more than 330 arrests. The area involved extends from southwestern China’s province of Fujian to northern China’s province of Hebei.
Although some reports say that the two operations together resulted in the “rescue” of “89 infants,” details in the same reports and others imply that the rescued included, not only infants, but also children well beyond infancy. Indeed, at least one photo shows two of the rescued children; these children are clearly not only not infants, but are beyond puberty; indeed, one of the girls, though relatively young, clearly appears to be pregnant.
Some locations involved the July 20th action, do indeed appear to involved the recovery of nothing but infants. One photo taken in the city of Handan shows a line of smiling policewomen carrying 13 “rescued” infants to safety. Most of the recovered infants in the July 20th action are girls, and they are very young, ranging in age from 10 days to 4 months. Of those infants who had not yet been sold to families, some had been in the care of the traffickers for up to two months. At least one report alleged that those infants found in the traffickers’ care had been being fed low-quality milk powder and had been kept in squalid conditions.
It’s not immediately apparent where the July 20th recovered children came from. News reports note both that abductions by child traffickers of children within China are fairly common, but also note that some Chinese families, especially within rural areas, who prefer sons over daughters, have also been known to sell their infant daughters to traffickers so as to be able to try again for a son. One report states that all of the “rescued” children had been abducted. But all in all, considering all the reports, it remains unclear as to exactly where the children had come from. Given the short period of time that had elapsed since the children were recovered, it is possible that investigators themselves may not have yet known where the children came from.
These children, like the infants rescued earlier on July 15th, were given medical exams and then taken to orphanages where to be cared for during the process of identification (using DNA and other clues) and attempted reunion with their parents (if they can be found).
That some parent child reunions were already taking place just a few days after the children were recovered is clear from some news report photos. That these reunions could also be emotionally difficult and complicated is also evident. In one photo, a father is shown to have found his twin girls, abducted six years earlier. As I mentioned earlier, though the twins look fairly young, it is also obvious that they are already through puberty, as one of the girls appears to be in an advanced stage of pregnancy. Sadly, the photo caption states that the father was “reluctant” to take his twin girls home again because he “couldn’t accept what [they] had become.” Readers are left to wonder about the father's decision. Did he take his adolescent daughters home or not? One can only begin to imagine the drama of this family's story. Fault--if it was appropriate to assign any--for “what [the girls] had become” in the time they were away from their original family was not almost certainly not their own. How therefore could these girls be rejected by their own father? On the other hand, one has also to identify with the difficulty of the father's situation. The task of rehabilitating adolescents who may have been trafficked for un-named purposes, but purposes that we have to wonder about, would surely not be easy. And the outcome of that rehabilitation, uncertain. The father might very well be taking home virtual strangers whose values might very well differ from his own and his community's, and yet he would become immediately responsible for these adolescents and what happened to them from that time forward. An extremely difficult and complicated assignment for any parent.
Such is one of the problems of older child abduction. Children continue to grow and mature. They become different people than they’d have originally have been if they had never been taken from their families. The abducted children have in some very real sense, ceased to exist; likewise, from the children's point of view the parents have also become odd and foreign to the people they've become. In this way, the harm done to the victims by traffickers who steal children is inestimable. Time which is lost cannot be recovered, but more than that, that which is done can not be undone, influence/culture lost can't be recovered, and influence/culture hijacked by others can't be erased.
What Does This Mean for Supposed “Surplus” of Children Within China and for International Adoption from China?
Speculation is that this, China’s highly publicized and widespread crackdown on child trafficking in July (and for the few months previous to July) is a deliberate move on the part of the Chinese government to convince Chinese citizens, outraged at the government’s past lack of responsiveness to the “growing tide of child kidnapping” and child trafficking within China, that they do indeed care and are taking effective, concrete action.
This growing public outrage is no accident. News reports credit the growing displeasure of citizens with both the rising tide of child abductions and the government’s inaction in regard to them, with the most recent campaign by parents of kidnapped children to raise public awareness and outrage. In particular, a recent Chinese micro-blog campaign by parents of abducted and trafficked children complained about government officials who ignored and hindered parents from finding their abducted children. Parents complained that some law enforcement agencies refused to file reports of missing children, and that law enforcement agencies, even when they did file reports, often failed to act on leads given by parents. The campaign therefore encouraged Chinese citizens to help parents of abducted children recover their missing children by taking photos of children on the street to help facilitate identification of kidnapped children.
The parents of kidnapped and abducted children have, after years of struggle, finally won the attention of not only Chinese citizens, but also of the Chinese state media and the Chinese government officials. The reality of the widespread problem of child abduction and child trafficking within China is now openly acknowledged by both the state media and the government.
Indeed, the state media itself now openly estimates that up to 20,000 children a year are abducted and/or trafficked in China. According to Chen Shinqu, director of the Human Trafficking Office of the Ministry of Public Security:
“Child abductions have entered a phase of high-frequency.”
According to China Daily, Chen sees the "main cause of human trafficking crimes" to be the “existence of a buyer’s market.”
Indeed, many of us who have followed international adoption corruption for a long time, have come to believe that where there is high demand for human children and there is the money to back this demand, entrepreneurs, criminals, and others will arise to ensure that that market demand is met. To believe that it is otherwise is to be naïve.
China's one-child policy is frequently blamed as the cause of this demand for children within China. Under the one child policy most families were allowed only one child. Combined with a cultural and economic preference for sons, in the early years of the one-child policy, this led to the abandonment of many baby girls as families held out for a son. More recently, as the one-child policy has perhaps relaxed somewhat, and the availability of ultrasound machines has proliferated, sex-selective abortion has eliminated baby girls before birth, leading to a highly publicized gender imbalance within China in the younger generations. As the population has grown lop-sided with boys, families have begun to worry about procuring wives for their sons in future years. Some families solve this future problem by buying girl babies, “child brides,” when their sons are young and raising them to be future wives and daughters-in-law.
The shortage of girls has not raised the status of women; instead, girls have become one more rare commodity within a market ready and willing to buy them. Speculation is that far from raising the status of women, a shortage of marriageable women will lead—and indeed may already have led--to greater levels of trafficking of both children and women for sexual purposes and prostitution.
Likewise, as families have been willing to buy a girl child for future purposes, families who desire a son (but are unable to produce one for various reasons) have also become willing to buy one.
Indeed, children, as their numbers have shrunken within Chinese society, are in short supply generally, and so they have become rare commodities capable of fetching high sums.
And as stated before, where the market demands and is willing to pay high prices, suppliers eager to make good money inevitably eventually step in. Thus, child traffickers have increasingly been abducting and trafficking children.
What does all this mean in the international adoption arena? After all, isn’t this a blog primarily about international adoption and international adoption corruption?
Well, perhaps it means that the story peddled for the last twenty years or so by adoption agencies and the popular media, and the story that adoptive parents still hoping to adopt from China—which I STILL hear from acquaintances on the street—tell about China having so many unwanted baby girls that they’re simply there for the picking, (and indeed, we all ought to be lining up to adopt one of them if we were good Christians and cared about children) while it may once have been true, is no longer true. The situation has changed. China may well still have SOME children in need of adoption, but in China, as elsewhere, these children are likely to be seriously handicapped children and much older children. (The advisability of international adoption of much older children will be the subject of other posts.)
China’s domestic demand for healthy, young children—even girls (maybe especially girls)—may well be strong enough to absorb whatever healthy, young children are available.
It also means that the idea that Chinese adoption is, compared to other countries, squeaky clean, is probably also dead. Can we honestly believe that international adoption could remain squeaky clean in a country where child abduction and child trafficking is rampant, where orphanages have been documented to pay people for supplying adoptable young children (yes, this has been documented), where officials have been documented to have forcibly removed children (in excess of the family planning quota) from their parents in order to send them to orphanages, where orphanages gain money for every child they place, and where children are such rare, valuable commodities?
If you believe that one, I know a few other fairy tales that someone would like to tell you, and a few telemarketers and scammers out there that would love to have your name and email address.
“China Rescues Dozens of Infants from Human Traffickers” Beijing Newsroom, edited by Alex Richardson and Sui-Lee Wee, Reuters, 27 July 2011
“Human Trafficking Ring Busted” Zheng Caixong and Zhang Yan, China Daily, 27 July 2011
“Chinese police rescue 89 children in two major human trafficking cases” by Chen Zhi, Xinhua News Agency, English.xinhua.com, 27 July 2011
“Authorities to Place Stolen Babies in Care” by Zhang Yan, China Daily, 29 July 2011
“Doctor Helped in Selling of Children to Chinese Families” Financial Times of London (source: Shanghai Daily), 8 August 2011
“China Cracks Down on Child Kidnappings” by Patti Waldmeir, Shanghai, Financial Times of London, 27 July 2011
“Children as young as 10 DAYS old among 89 rescued from clutches of Chinese people traffickers” Daily Mail Online, 27 July 2011