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
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.