Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vacuous US Government Assurances Regarding China & Child Laundering: Do They Really Think We’re This Dumb ( Or Are They This Dumb)?

The following notice about adoption from China appeared last August on the US State Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs Intercountry Adoption page for China:


August 15, 2011

Notice: Concerns About Information on the Background of Children Adopted from China

The press has reported allegations that in 2005 local family planning officials in China, in the name of enforcing the “One Child Policy,” seized children from their birth families and sold them to orphanages. Embassy Beijing has been in touch with China’s Centre for Children’s Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) about the allegations mentioned in the articles and CCCWA has promised updates on their investigations when they have further information. We are not aware of any intercountry adoption by a U.S. family that has been confirmed to be linked to these alleged actions.

In response to these concerns, we would like to remind adopting parents that verification of a child’s eligibility for intercountry adoption is an integral part of the intercountry adoption process. If there is evidence that documents may have been falsified or are not accurate, then officials at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate conduct an investigation before the visa is approved. If you wish to get more information on your child’s background, we suggest that you contact the adoption service provider that assisted you with the adoption.

If you have any further questions about this notice please contact the Office of Children’s Issues at: 1-888-407-4747 within the United States or 202-501-4444 from outside the United States.

More than 37,000 children were adopted into the United States from China during the boom years of 2000 through 2005. During that time, most (including myself) thought that the Chinese adoption system was almost completely free of child laundering---free of practices that illicitly obtain children through purchase, fraud, or kidnapping. (Of course, there has always been the underlying issue of the role of coercive population control policies as a significant factor in abandonments.) Since then, there has been an unending and growing series of revelations indicating that by 2002, and probably beginning by 2000, there was systematic misconduct in how children were obtained for intercountry adoption. It has now reached the point where these concerns and revelations have become publicized even within China, and where many adoptive parents have become aware of these difficulties.

This places those who adopted from China during these years in an enormously difficult situation, and sets the stage, as this generation of Chinese adoptees grows up, of a generation of Chinese adult adoptees wondering whether they were purchased or stolen children.

In this context, one might have thought that the governments involved would feel some sense of responsibility and ownership, given that every one of these adoptions was approved by both China and the United States. Instead, one sees an enormous face-saving set of denials. Given the authoritarian nature of the Chinese government, one may have expected that in China. For Americans, however, it is embarrassing to see our own government similarly engage in face-saving denial, for it indicates a government more concerned with saving its own reputation than in the best interests of the children and adults whose lives were directly impacted.

Consider the most recent U.S. Government public statement on this issue, posted on the official State Department adoption web site in August 2011, and linked and copied below. Notice the use of meaningless assurances, which one does not have to be a lawyer (as I am) to spot. For example, we are told that various parts of the Chinese government are involved in responding to these allegations and conducting investigations. While it has been true that sometimes the Chinese government conducts face-saving prosecutions that do go so far as to prosecute some individuals, we also know that the Chinese government tends to issue denials that any of the trafficked children ended up being placed overseas for adoption, and tends to minimize the scope of the scandals they investigate, due to their concern with maintaining the positive reputation of their adoption program. Is the United States government really telling us to trust that the Chinese government would tell us if they discovered that large numbers of trafficked children had been adopted into other countries? Do the U.S. government officials who wrote this really themselves believe that the Chinese government would publicize such facts if they discovered them?

Then, the U.S. government tells us that they are “not aware” of any U.S. adoptions which have been “confirmed” to be linked to a specific subset of these wrongs: the seizures of children by population control officials. A key word here is “confirmed.” The reason such has not been confirmed is that the Chinese government would not admit it if they had confirmed such a fact and the United States government does not itself investigate such allegations once the children have arrived in the United States. Without adequate investigation, such cases can never be “confirmed.” You cannot confirm what you do not investigate.

I will use my own experience as an example. We adopted two older girls from India who turned out to be laundered/trafficked children wrongfully taken from their family. We informed the United States government and the government of India. Yet, neither government ever conducted any investigations of these cases. Thus, even though we have done reunions with their family in India and have documented in detail that the children were adopted without consent and with false paperwork, in an official sense, these remain “unconfirmed” cases. And, of course, our own actions in informing the governments involved and conducting our own confirming investigations is relatively rare. In most instances where adoptive families suspect that the children may have been trafficked or laundered, they are far too frightened to either inform the government s involved, or investigate. And even among the minority of families that carry out their own independent investigations and confirm the wrongdoing, only a smaller minority ever informs the governments involved of what they have themselves discovered.

So, in short, it is entirely cynical for the government that fails to conduct the investigations necessary to “confirm” such cases to issue vacuous assurances. It would be like a government claiming that the crime rate is down after they systematically decide not to prosecute crimes.

The state department further assures us:

Verification of a child’s eligibility for intercountry adoption is an integral part of the intercountry adoption process. If there is evidence that documents may have been falsified or are not accurate, then officials at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate conduct an investigation before the visa is approved.

These assurances are similarly misplaced. First, the visa approval processes the government mentions here occurred before the children arrived in the United States; in terms of China before 2005 there were few suspicions that there was any wrongdoing, and hence presumably no such individualized investigations were conducted by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Second, in China relinquishment of a child is illegal, and hence adopted children were all officially “abandoned,” generally without any paperwork identifying their original families. This makes any after the fact investigation extremely difficult. Third, the normal processes for intercountry adoption would involve the United States government simply reviewing documentation of the child’s status as adoptable as provided by governments or others in the country of origin. Where the child is obtained through force, fraud, or funds, false paperwork is provided indicating the child was properly abandoned or relinquished, and then everything proceeds based upon a review of the false paperwork. Child laundering scandals in numerous nations, including China, as well as Guatemala, Cambodia, India, Vietnam, Samoa, and others, have indicated that this normal review of documents process is totally ineffective in screening out children who have been illicitly obtained.

So why does the government provide us with these disingenuous set of false but vacuous assurances? Presumably, the government believes that they can get away with it, and can appear to be responding to the publicized scandals in a purportedly responsible way. It is up to the diverse adoption community---adoptees, adoptive families, agencies, scholars, and original families (although usually powerless and voiceless) to let the government know that we are not fooled---nor are we amused---by this verbal sleight of hand.


Notice: Concerns About Information on the Background of Children Adopted From China, US Department of State, 15 August 2011


  1. Dear Professor Smolin,

    I am an anthropologist from Barcelona who has been researching for more than 2 years in rural China and I can confirm that there are several cases of children who were adopted in Spain after being seized from their own birth families. I could reconstruct the previous lives and events of several children adopted since 2000 and on the way, I also gathered several doubtful practices used to provide the orphanages with "adoptable" children.

    Of course, all the papers given by the orphanages to the adoptive parents of these girls are "completely regular and lawful" and all of them figure as "abandoned" (!!!!!).

    Spanish government and most adoption agencies have also been denying all these accusations. There is no interest in digging this matter out...

    China has bought a big part of our external debt... Mr. Hu Jintao just affirmed a couple of years ago that his government considered Spain to be the most trustful European country ... maybe it's also because China has been the main source of children from 2000 to 2006 for my country. and- as you probably know- it became the world's second adoptive country just after the US.... :-(

    Sadly, "acting in the best interest for children" is just a mantra they keep repeating to convince themselves of what they are doing... but what always moves the world is "the best interest of their pockets"!...

    Best regards,

    Júlia Vich

  2. Thank you for your comment and information. Of course as a researcher in this area I would be very interested in any information you have, of the kind you mentioned. (If it is in Spanish I do have a research assistant who can translate for me.) I also recommend that you find some way of documenting these cases if possible--for example through publication of some kind of article of your own. If you are not sure of a place to publish I could provide some possible recommendations. It is particularly important to document this with so much denial and with so many children having been adopted from China who will grow up, and some will want to know as much as possible. You can always contact me at dmsmolin@gmail.com privately if you want. regards, David Smolin

  3. David, it's great to see you shine the light on this massive problem. I can confirm from first hand experience that the Canadian government certainly has no ability to investigate inside of China and relies on the feedback of the Canadian embassy in China who ironically relies upon the word of the CCAA/CCCWA.
    I can also say that when information was presented to the Canadian government there was only a reaction of passing the buck and refusal to accept Hunan logs because according to the Canadian federal government "those logs are useless to them".
    IMO the Hunan logs and every other scrap of evidence should be embraced by Canadian officials, if for no other reason than to inform the victims of trafficking.
    In the end those who hold the power for change are the ones who continue to feed the industry or who line the pockets of politicians.
    I have little hope that the right wing conservative "Harper government" will issue a moratorium on adoptions because it would conflict with their general agenda!
    And FWIW, I don't think things have gotten any better in this program, I think the crimes have just evolved.

    1. Cathy, Thanks for your reply and thoughts. For what it is worth, I am always interested in receiving information people have, since I am a researcher. You can write me privately at dmsmolin@gmail.com if you wish . I also don't expect any moratorium on adoptions, but personally I don't think it has to do with whether a government is right wing, left wing, or anything in-between. I personally think that envisioning adoption politics in these kinds of political categories doesn't work. Politicians of all stripes in democratic governments at this point respond primarily to prospective adoptive parents, adoptive parents, and (in the US) private adoption agencies, when making policies related to adoption, which leads to insufficient responses to abusive adoption practices. One more thing: I would be curious what you mean that the "crimes have just evolved." In what way? thanks and best wishes, David

    2. I mention the right wing aspect of the government because of the pro-life agenda and the $uppot his party receives and by whom. Many consider the China program as something that saved baby girls from abortions and from my experience, the right wing side often defends certain crimes with the claim that Gods law trumps other laws. Obama gave the family planning funding back to China, Harper took it away.
      As for the crimes evolving, the target group is no longer the AYAP NSN female. Now it's children with minor SNs or older children. As the market shifts, the crimes shift.

  4. Dumb question: If you know your girls were stolen, surely they have adoption in India: why did you not facilitate your girls' parents adopting their children back?

    I don't get it. You know they were obtained illegally even though you yourself were innocent of criminal intent. So your answer to a wrong being done is... to perpetuate the wrong by continuing to keep this couple's daughters far away from them for most of the year?

    It's like that adoption scandal in Fiji where children were also outright stolen. As far as I know not one American family who adopted those kids has bothered taking them home and getting the adoption overturned OR paying for the natural family to adopt back their own children.

    It's nice you're writing a blog about this stuff. But it's easy to write a blog. If a wrong's been done though, and you could have fixed it and you didn't, that's not OK.

    1. Wow, thats so easy to say! Dana do you have an adoptive child? I adopted my daughter from China in the begining of 2006. I have been learning of the coruption in the last couple of years. When we adopted we truly believed and were told that the children were abandoned. I am very attached to my daughter as she is to me. I do not know at this point if she was abandoned or stolen. There are so many lies to sort through. I have been looking for her biological family because I want her to have that information if its possible. But at this point I would never give her back, she is my child!!! She knows nothing but us. If i were to find her biological family I would do everything in my power for her to have a relationship with them. Unless you walk in someone else shoes you shouldn't leap to such judgements about whether someone should give back thier child. There are many victims in corrupt adoption. Everybody suffers because of the lies and their is no clear cut answers.

    2. In addition to what "Anonymous" said, attachment and emotional issues aside (if you could ever exclude that from what needs to be considered when discussing this)- with an international adoption you are required as a legal obligation of the adoption to obtain citizenship for your child and most often their birth citizenship must be relinquished at that time. The children you are talking about had been living with their adoptive family for six years by the time they were able to verify the girls' story and find their birth mother. They would have been citizens of the US by that point. They would have also been quite normalized into their new lives wrt language, culture, education etc. It's not so black and white just to say "give the children back." Surprisingly that probably wouldn't have been what was best for the girls at that point, not to mention the legalities of it. What is important, and what this family seems to be doing is maintaining contact with the birth parents and facilitating and fostering a relationship between them and the children. While not the perfect thing in an idealist's world under the circumstances I'm not sure what more could be expected.

    3. If my memory of the Smolin's family story is correct, and I hope David might correct me if not, the girls were given an opportunity to return, however, they decided to stay in their (adoptive) family.

      There is always a much larger picture than we initially see ... critizing David & his family without knowing the entire story, is not appropriate.

      This family has done so much to bring the story of corruption in international adoption to light ... and they get flack, as do all those who disclose the truth, for it.

    4. Dana,

      I've answered your question in a blog post. See



  5. The Chinese government has a one child policy. That has always been a factor in many children particularly girls being placed for adoption. What is new here and what is your point?

  6. What do you think is going to change by proving what we already know that Chinese people want to keep their children? Good luck taking on the Chinese government. Shutting down adoptions is just going to mean that the kids are wards of the state, a fate worse than death in many places. 70% of Russian orphans who are never adopted do not survive when they are released to fend for themselves.

    1. My understanding of the situation in China, particularly as pertains to their population control policies, is summarized in my "Missing Girls of China" article, also on bepress, and found here: http://works.bepress.com/david_smolin/9/ To over-simplify this detailed article, the evidence indicates that sex selective abortion had largely replaced sex selective abandonments by 2000 to 2002. The evidence suggests that since 2000, and at least by 2002, orphanages no longer had enough healthy baby girls to keep up with the "demand" for both intercountry and domestic adoption. The orphanages began to enter the market in children---to pay for children. Yes, there was a day when Chinese orphanages were filled with healthy baby girls abandoned in response to the one-child policy plus a felt cultural need for a son. But when sex selective abortion replaced sex selection abandonment, that changed. That is why trafficking started in adoptions from China, and also why the numbers being sent from China are way down, and the waiting periods for healthy babies has gotten extremely long. Indeed, it is most likely that there is no "need" for interoountry adoption of healthy babies and toddlers at all from China: all could be placed in the country, and would be, if not for the financial incentives to place children internationally. Yes, there are a number of special needs---often severe special needs---children available for adoption in China, and some much older children, and the Chinese government is offering a number of these children for adoption. I agree that Russia is a very different story from China. The problem in Russia is not trafficking for the most part, but simply one of doing adoption "well," in the sense of providing accurate information on the special needs of children to families in advance of adoption, and providing adequate training for adoptive families and post-adoption services. Adopting older, post-institutionalized children from Russia is a high-risk venture that needs to be carried out with open eyes and done well. If you read the articles on my bepress site, you will see that I do not paint with a broad brush, but try to account for the different situations in different countries of origin. David P.S. Since you sign as "faithwalk" perhaps you may be interested in the subject of what the Bible teaches about adoption? If so, I recommend my article on that topic on my bepress web site---right now it is the first article up, "Of orphans and adoption,..."

  7. Trafficking happened before the 2000's inside Chinese orphanages. I'm sure the massive baby buying took place beginning around 2000 however there have been cases discovered before 2000.
    And China lacked the effort in trying to locate parents of stolen or lost children and often placed them in orphanages. Those kids ended up adopted abroad often.
    Kids who even knew their names and entered orphanages with distinct regional accents were never returned to their families and were adopted.
    I don't think it's safe to assign a specific timeline on when things went sour. The program really never had a good start. It's been sour all along. There should have been stronger efforts to relocate parents and a domestic adoption program before kids were sent abroad.
    And while most believe that it's a government run program, the reality has been that the western agencies and NGOs have been in there from the very start.

  8. Faithwalk: While it may be true that some children would remain in China's orphanages, what is lost in most discussions is the reality that without baby-buying and other coercive programs, those kids would never have been brought to the orphanage to begin with. Thus, the argument that we should keep a corrupt program open to prevent children from being made "wards of the state" falsely assumes they would have been there anyways.

    David: While I think we can look at 2000 as an inflection point in China's adoption program, there is evidence that trafficking began much earlier. The Duan family, for example, serving time for the Hunan scandal trafficking, report that the Changning orphanage began pressuring employees to "get kids" in 1996. We are hampered in determining the extent of the trafficking much before 2000 by the lack of orphanage data, but there is nothing to suggest that such programs were not occurring with some frequency in the 1990s.

    Good post, and certainly a topic that should be considered by families adopting from China. As we saw with the experience of the ONLY government to do any investigating into China's program, the Dutch were told in very specific language by China that they were to stop their investigations or risk retribution. China is the big kid on the block, and no government is really interested in getting into a skirmish with them over a few thousand orphans.


  9. If I understand correctly, you are saying that there is more demand than supply of adoptable children. So following that logic, the orphanages must be empty now except for those in the process of being adopted or who have special needs and are harder or impossible to place. Is that the case? If not why not?

    How is it that you know more than every other news outlet on this and people who have been there and seen the kids in the orphanages? Most say that China's one child policy and the abject poverty of the people there has created more orphans than the country can find forever homes for in-country.