Sold by their parents, now rescued from traffickers, children face legal hurdles to be adopted

By Southern Weekly Source:Global Times Published: 2015-7-27 18:48:02

Between 2009 and 2011, Chinese police rescued 13,284 children in a nationwide crackdown on child trafficking. Some of these children were then taken away from their buyers, who had bought them for adoption, and sent to local welfare centers. But that didn't put an end to their misery. With their birth parents nowhere to be found, and since they are not eligible for adoption according to China's adoption law, there is no hope for these children to find a real family. To change the situation, experts are calling for amendment of the adoption law.

A caretaker feeds a boy, a victim of child trafficking, in a welfare center in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. Photo: CFP

Yunmin, a girl from Yunnan Province, has lived with three families, but there's no place she could call home.

In 2011, her birth family sold her to a couple who wanted to adopt a girl. A year later, in a nationwide operation targeting child trafficking, police saved her from the adoptive family and sent her to a welfare center. There, a third family tried to foster her, but returned her to the welfare center after only a few months, unhappy with her conditions.

Yunmin (pseudonym) is one of many children who, after they were rescued from baby buyers or traffickers, are left in limbo. Their birth parents never come forward, even if their information has been published on the Internet or by the media for years. They can no longer return to the families which had bought them and are partially responsible for their tragedy. It's also extremely difficult for them to find new adoptive parents, due to restrictions under China's adoption law.

Many of them can only spend the rest of their childhood in China's welfare centers.

Dismal sale

In 2011, Liang Zhengfen, a 46-year-old migrant worker in Huaan county, Fujian Province, met a man with a Yunnan accent who said he wanted to sell his younger daughter.

Liang, who already had a son with her current husband, had long planned to adopt a daughter. She gave the man 5,000 yuan ($805) and took the girl home.

That girl was Yunmin. After Liang brought her home, she found her to be a bit slow, and suffering from heterotropia. But she treated her just as she would her birth daughter.

In 2012, during a national crackdown on child trafficking, police in Huaan county saved 12 children, all of whom were sold by their birth parents. Most of their parents were migrant workers who worked in Huaan, and who sold their babies directly after they were born. Baby boys were sold between 40,000 yuan to 50,000 yuan, and girls between 5,000 to 18,000 yuan. Yunmin was one of them.

After that, she was taken away from Liang and sent to a welfare center in the city of Zhangzhou, which has jurisdiction over Huaan county.

Poverty is the major reason why these parents chose to sell their own babies. In the crackdown in Fujian Province, police investigations revealed that many sold children came from Guangnan county in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, bordering Guizhou and Guangxi. The county is designated by Chinese authorities as a "national poverty county."

The backward local customs and appalling living conditions mean that those who sell their babies for money rarely feel any guilt. Li Shifang, who sold her baby boy for 35,000 yuan, and Li Fuchun, who also sold his newly born baby, did not repent when they were prosecuted. During the interrogation, they reiterated that it was normal for people in their hometown to "give away" their unwanted children and ask for some money in return.

"They have no idea that it's illegal to sell children," Lin Yanfu, a policeman at Huaan county's public security bureau, told Southern Weekly.

Li Shifang was given three years' imprisonment after the trial. But by the time of the verdict, she was pregnant again, and the court had to give her probation instead. No one knows if she will sell her baby again. Yunmin's parents were not prosecuted by the police.

China's Ministry of Public Security has a DNA database that helps parents find their missing children, and rescued children to find their parents. But only parents whose children were snatched or abducted will input their DNA into the system. Those who willingly sold their children, naturally, would not check the database or input their information.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Civil Affairs, among the 13,284 trafficked children who were rescued between 2009 and 2011, 12,100, over 90 percent, had not been able to find their parents via the system.

Trifling rescue

After Yunmin was sent to the welfare center, she found a foster family, but they sent her back after just several months, saying she didn't meet their expectations.

As Yunmin is now awaiting other foster parents, she is missed by Liang and her husband, the closest "relatives" Yunmin has. This year, they learned the whereabouts of Yunmin and traveled over 100 kilometers from the mountainous area they live in to see her. They brought her food and clothing, hugged her, and asked her about her studies.

Chinese authorities often accorded lenient treatment to the baby buyers in child-selling cases, since most of them had neither obstructed the investigation nor abused the children they bought. A man who bought a baby boy in Fujian Province was sentenced to 18 months' probation and 5,000 yuan in fine.

After the children they had bought were rescued and sent to welfare centers, many former buyers of these children still wanted to adopt them, having already formed bonds with them.

Xu Qiuming, a tea trader from Anxi county, Fujian Province, paid 35,000 yuan for a baby boy who he named Shiyin, literally "inheritance" and "smart," from a broker from Yunnan. He even used his personal connections to buy his "illegal" son a hukou, or household registration permit, which grants legal status to Chinese citizens.

After police found out that the baby was bought, they sent him to the welfare center. Xu asked the police if he could adopt him again, this time through legal means. "I visited the center and my little boy is lonely there," he told the police. He was turned down.

In another dramatic case, a baby buyer applied to work as a caretaker in the center, so that she could look after her "child," now living in the welfare center.

Before July 2011, local police had allowed baby buyers to continue rearing these children before the police found their biological parents. But in order to drive down the demand in the human-trafficking market, the police decided that such children had to be sent to welfare centers immediately.

Xie Junbo, head of the welfare center in Zhangzhou, admits that in many cases, the original buyers are the most suitable adoptive families for these kids. On the one hand, they have already lived together for a period of time and are familiar with each other. On the other hand, these parents are willing to and capable of rearing the child.

However, welfare centers still intentionally avoid the original "buyers" when they are choosing foster parents for the kids. "The police saved them from the buyers and sent them to the welfare center. We can't return them to the buyers," Xie told Southern Weekly.

"What is legal isn't always reasonable, and vice versa," he said.

"Theoretically, we have saved these children. But in reality, it seems that we didn't," a policeman who handled child-trafficking cases, told Southern Weekly.

Legal conundrum

What makes matters more complicated is that even if welfare centers manage to find new adoptive parents for these children, it's very likely that the adoption will fail.

According to China's adoption law, only three types of infants or children can be adopted: orphans; those abandoned and whose parents cannot be found; or those whose parents are unable to rear them due to unusual difficulties. Children who meet any of these requirements also have to be under 14.

The children who are rescued from traffickers, however, are neither recognized as orphans nor abandoned according to the law, because the possibility remains that their parents are looking for them. In reality, welfare centers often find it difficult to finish legal adoption procedures for these children, even if they have found new adoptive families who are willing to adopt them.

Huang Xihua, a member of the National People's Congress from Guangdong Province, has been trying to involve different departments when finding adoptive families for these children. "When reached independently, the Civil Affairs Bureau would say that the Public Security Bureau hasn't closed the case, and that these children cannot be categorized as abandoned. The Public Security Bureau would say that the child in question is already in the welfare center, which is managed by the Civil Affairs Bureau. Different departments have to work together to find a solution," she told Southern Weekly.

Huang and many experts have also called for amending the adoption law, and allowing trafficked children, whose parents cannot be found one year after they are rescued, to be adopted. If their birth parents show up after they are adopted, the birth parents will have the right to terminate the adoptive relationship between their child and adoptive parents. "Welfare centers are just a temporary home. They are no substitute for a real family. The authorities have the responsibility to find them a new home," Liang Zhiyi, an official at Foshan's Public Security Bureau, told the media.

Until that happens, there is little hope for these hapless children.

Southern Weekly

Newspaper headline: Mounted Misery

Posted in: In-Depth

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