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Are Adopted Chinese Babies Treated Like Stolen Cars?

stolen adopted Chinese babies

Just got a very strange email, which after thinking about it a bit, might not be so strange after all. The email is from a Chinese lawyer who directed my attention to a recent article, In Hunan, Family Planning Turns to Plunder.

This article talks of how local family planning agencies took babies from families that violated China’s one child policy and of how those babies were then put up for adoption.

The lawyer was writing to ask if the Chinese parents who had their children forcibly taken and then adopted in the United States could sue in the United States for the return of their kids. My email back was as follows:

Do you have some information regarding who adopted these kids? Without that, I do not see how you can possibly sue any parents. As for the validity of your claim, I have almost no idea, but I will say that if I were to have my car stolen and someone were to buy it (even if the thief-seller used fake papers to convince the buyer that it was a legitimate sale), the car would still be mine. Generally, one cannot lose title to something wrongfully taken away. Though i do not know whether this axiom applies to children too.

I then secured this lawyer’s permission for this post.

Does anyone know what happens to someone “wrongfully” adopted? Is there any statute of limitations? Are we looking at a bunch of these lawsuits?

22 responses to “Are Adopted Chinese Babies Treated Like Stolen Cars?”

  1. I don’t know the law in particular with regards to adoption, but I know that adopted children have been taken from their adoptive families for many reasons. Here in the U.S., if a woman decides to put her child up for adoption, she also has to clear it with the biological father, if he is still around. If the adoption went forward without the knowledge of that father, he could step in (even years after the fact) and claim his parental rights.

  2. The reason child protection laws are different to car theft laws are because of ethics. Human beings are different than things.
    An adopted child who has adjusted to a new family, life, language and home in America would go through some trauma being tossed back and forth in a trans-national custody battle. Meanwhile, your car doesn’t care where he’s parked!
    Adoption cases are really complicated, and I’m no lawyer.
    But clearly the fault, in terms of ethics, is on China.
    Overseas adoption agencies and adopted parents 99% of the time act in good faith. They presume that the children have either a) lost both their parents to death or b) have been given up willingly. There’s no way any US adopted parent would guess that a child was kidnapped and trafficked.
    On a practical note — how would they find these children now, anyway, with new names in a new country?
    I think the focus should not be on returning these poor kids, but on cracking down on the greedy human traffickers and corrupt Chinese officials who let these things happen.

  3. @Joyce Lau,
    I’d like to know how you came up with 99%. I’d also like to know how you can term “good faith” the act of going to a developing country and buying a child because that is what the parents are doing – a child knowing that the family (usually in dire straits) gets monetary recourse. Don’t make angels ought of one party to the transaction while reducing the other to a convenience or a stereotype, in this case the popular “corrupt officials”. If you adopt a baby from corrupt officials, and you turn a blind eye to the process up to getting the kid, is that so ethical?

  4. Whereas the US tends to return adopted kids to their biological parents regardless of the parents’ abilities to care for the children, China may leave the adoptee in the hands of the adoptive parents if the judge deems it is in “the best interests of the child”. Ignorance should also not be an excuse for adoptive parents to not perform due diligence prior to adopting a child. Western countries tend to be in an uproar over fair trade coffee and blood diamonds, but they don’t seem to spend as much time worrying about child trafficking. Adoptive parents are feeding the demand.

  5. Countries involved in international adoption have been very, very reluctant to undue what is considered a legal adoption, even in cases where the child was kidnapped from its birth parents. A recent case between India and the Netherlands is a typical case. In this case, a kidnapped Indian child was adopted by a couple in the Netherlands. The birth family sued to regain custody, but the governments would not force the adoptive family to provide DNA evidence, so the situation remains in limbo (http://www.againstchildtrafficking.org). Under current practice it seems the kids almost always remain with the adoptive families, who have little legal reason to provide visitation, etc. to the birth family.
    Identifying the adoptive families of these Chinese children would not be difficult, but it would require the cooperation of the Chinese government to open the adoption files. The adoptive family of Yang Li Bing’s daughter has already been identified, but the rest are unknown.

  6. “They presume that the children have either a) lost both their parents to death or b) have been given up willingly”
    Define “willingly.”
    A non-democratic government doesn’t equal “willingly” if the parents will be jailed or lose their home if they’ve gone over the one-child quota.
    A non-democratic government that also cannot/refuses to give parents the medical treatment their child needs to survive also doesn’t equal “willingly.”
    I think adoptive parents and agencies have a completely different idea of “willingly” than ‘birth’ parents or adoptees.

  7. “On a practical note — how would they find these children now, anyway, with new names in a new country?”
    They won’t.

  8. Anon — Adopting a child takes an enormous amount of care and time — not to mention raising, educating and supporting a child for 20+ years. People do it out of a combination of charity and wanting a child to love. They don’t profit from it in any monetary way.
    If you can’t tell the difference between families adopting an orphan into their home and “traders” working in illegal child trafficking, you’ve got a pretty weak grasp on this issue.
    The only people profiting from this are the Chinese traffickers and corrupt officials. Why blame the families — on both sides — who have been scammed?
    Several of my friends have adopted both from Western countries and China (and, in one case, HK). They were all incredibly responsible — in fact, 2 couples volunteered at orphanages as part of the process. How would they know if they’ve been lied or cheated to? It’s not that they were “turning a blind eye” or “not doing due diligence.” They would be appalled to learn that their children were kidnapped or snatched.
    The assumption — when you go through all the paperwork, checks, waiting and legal hassle — is that these are not trafficked children — that they have either lost parents were abandonned, and that you are helping them.
    I’m sure you can find the odd unfortunate case somewhere. But most Americans adopting in China make an effort to fly to China, and visit the orphanages and meet the caretakers. But you can’t ask an infant if he/she has been trafficked or not.
    There was a drop-off in Eastern European adoptions for a while because parents had ethical concerns. China was considered a relatively safer, more regulated place to adopt — until this happened. The sad thing is that, if China’s reputation is more damaged, the ones who will suffer will be the many, many (mostly female) orphans currently in state care.
    Why is it that the most heartless comments always come from people hiding behind anonymity?
    I feel terrible for both the adopted and natural parents. I feel even worst for the kids. But I have zero sympathy for a Chinese political system that allows for the sale of innocents.
    PS. Clearly the 99% was hyperbole.

  9. The original article by Caixin — which, BTW, is some good journalism — clearly states that Chinese cadres were nabbing kids, raking in cash, and lying about it to foreigners with fake paperwork.
    “Children in many parts of Hunan have been sold in recent years and wound up, sometimes with help from document forgers and complacent authorities, being raised by overseas families who think they adopted Chinese orphans.”
    I find it a stretch to blame adopted parents on the other side of the world for the darker side of China’s one-child policy.
    Meanwhile, there’s a pretty clear line of guilt pointing to cadres in Hunan. If Beijing wants to crack down on this, they’ve got to go to the core of the problem domestically, instead of looking for a foreign scapegoat.
    I don’t know if the posters on this site have families or kids of their own — but, God, those poor parents and children.

  10. TRA — I agree with you.
    In a broad sense, there’s no real “free will” when it comes to family planning in China. The one-child policy helped reduce hunger, but it left huge social and ethical problems.
    There are all the problems you cite — the lack of medical care and proper papers for “unofficial kids” — plus aborted female fetuses, abandoned baby girls, skewed gender ratios, child trafficking, forced sterilizations and cadres forcing late-term abortions. I saw an Al Jazeeera TV report on Xiamen state workers kicking an 8-month-pregnant lady in the stomach, which is illegal. It’s one sad mess.
    What I meant was that most adopted families would presume — and are told — that the children are orphans. That the parents are dead or gave up that child for adoption.
    You’re right that “willing” is a tricky word in this case. If a couple abandons a female or disabled child because they are unfairly held to only one child — and prefer a healthy boy — is that “willing”?
    The bigger point is that most adopted families would presume that they are taking kids who would otherwise spend their childhoods in orphanages — not that they are stealing kids away from loving families who have been victim to a kidnapping and are looking to get their children back.

  11. I am no lawyer, either. I was born and am living in Shanghai where lately a family can have two kids without violating the law, only if the parents are both the only kids of their own parents. Back when I was a child, I used to ask my mom why I had no brother or sister around, my mom would tell me that she would be penalized for having another baby. Plus, she wouldn’t love me that much if she had more than one kid. That’s my mom’s version of the one-child policy.
    Many years ago, I heard about child being seized by the gov in rural China and the parents were claiming their rights to the baby. Surely I didn’t hear this from mainstream media and I didn’t really believe what I heard back then. According to my mom’s version, you simply pay the fine and keep the child. And that’s why people were presumed rich when they were seen to have two kids.
    Now I figured that this is simply how the policy is implemented here in Shanghai, where people are less aggressive and rebellious. Parents will pay the fine, if they need another child really bad, or they don’t even think about one more kid. It will be a different case in rural China, where people are less educated in many ways, especially on sex. Having babies is the logical consequence of marriage which is a legitimate way of having sex, and I also believe they even loath upon birth control devices. And these very people aren’t rich enough to be penalized. That’s probably why the county level birth planning agencies break an entry, seize the child, in order to implement the law/policy. That’s only one of the many stupid solutions they have figured out to solve some tough problems.
    As an outsider of this case, I dare say that no one is wrong, and no one is right. And the victimized parents really need to think twice before they are struggling to get the seized-adopted kids back, if the kids are living in a far better off life than their biological parents can possibly give them. Kids are human beings endowed with equal rights, not their parents’ accessories nor personal properties.

  12. (1) Absent a compelling reason, reversing an adoption is difficult in general, though one would need to check the relevant laws with a specialist practitioner.
    (2) Theft of a child by illegal means would possibly qualify as a compelling reason in some jurisdictions, though the focus is the best interests of the child.
    (3) There’s plenty of debate on the scale of offenses, there are instances where reversals have occurred as a result of illegal practices, and there’s an impressive conference note by Elizabeth Bartholet of Harvard Law’s child advocacy project, http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/bartholet/InternationalAdoption_A_Way_Forward.pdf

  13. I find it despicably self-serving that many in the Chinese adoption community will NOT acknowledge the depth of the corruption and trafficking that have gone on, and instead of demanding transparency from their adoption agencies or Chinese officials are blaming the messenger; making lame excuses; and basically stating that the ends justify the means so what’s the big deal. This community seems to think that in a country where so little ethical regulation is in place or enforced that somehow adoption will not be tainted because “it’s all about the children.” Since when has China cared about the tens of thousands of children it’s dumped on the US for profit?
    It’s about bloody time the adoptive parents of children from China, like author Scott Simon with his book “Baby We Were Meant for Each Other” –would he stick to that title if he found out his daughters had been kidnapped or trafficked from their biological families???–wake up to the rot at the center of international adoption. This rot has shut down Nepal, Cambodia, Guatemala, and Vietnam, and slowed down India and Ethiopia. And many of the very same US agencies responsible for aiding and abetting this rot are plying their trade in China.
    All a prospective or adoptive parent has to do is sit down with stern nerves and their fingers on the Google button to find out how pervasive the rot is. And they can start by demanding that their agencies stop kissing the US-cash-enriched derrieres of the Chinese officials who make a lot of rules (along with all that $$$) and hide a lot of truths. Because they know that US adoption agencies and their clients will swallow any crap they hand out. Even if it’s laced with melamine.

  14. @JoyceLau
    Forgive me if I posted too blunt an opinion, and that said, I don’t find anything heartless in my comments. There were no names in the OP, your post, or mine. Have I besmirched the name of adoptive parents everywhere? Though I’m not sure what weight it lends my opinion, my name is James.
    As another commenter mentioned, anyone with internet access can do their “due diligence” and find out just how messy international adoptions can be and often are, once a lot of the various factors are considered.
    As a teenager my family and friends helped take care of another friend, a boy adopted from Korea and pretty much abandoned by his parents when the task of rearing a teenager became too burdensome. This despite their being legally obligated to care for him as a minor. When I say take care of, I mean he was often without shelter and had no money, or food to eat. This was in a big American city with some pretty mean streets.
    Now, despite this being a boy I was good friends with and so taking the matter personally, I certainly wouldn’t make his parents the rule for adoptive parents; I can say they aren’t the only poor adoptive parents I can think of, nor are they in the majority.
    In your post, you are discussing two different things: the adoption process, and the raising of children. You wrote:
    “An adopted child who has adjusted to a new family, life, language and home in America would go through some trauma being tossed back and forth in a trans-national custody battle. Meanwhile, your car doesn’t care where he’s parked!”
    I never suggested that kids be uprooted after having been raised in the U.S, did I? In my previous post I (at least intended to) address the original adoption process itself, not kids being taken from loving homes after years of warmth and care.
    This statement:
    “If you can’t tell the difference between families adopting an orphan into their home and “traders” working in illegal child trafficking, you’ve got a pretty weak grasp on this issue.”
    I think that if you think that there is always such a clear line between adoptions and traders, you are being willfully naive. Again, you paint it in such clear cut and broad terms: families warmly welcoming unloved kids into their homes and the cold-hearted Chinese officials who are involved in illegal child trafficking are miles apart… I just don’t see it as being that black and white.
    I really, really doubt that anyone adopting from China doesn’t know about the one child rule, and that parents who run afoul of this rule might not have been “unable” to take care of their child as much as they were too poor to do so. Again, this doesn’t mean that all adoptive parents are callous and predatory. But there are a lot of people profiting handsomely from adoptions, not just corrupt Chinese officials. Also, if Chinese officials didn’t see something in it for themselves, what might be the result then?
    On the first page of the google search for “Chinese adoption corruption”:
    It is the “illegal” (really just undocumented) children whose parents can not afford to pay the fine or do not have the resources to have their child informally adopted that end up in China’s Social Welfare Institutes (SWIs) aka orphanages. Additionally, for families willing to buck the no-adopting tradition, adopted children are counted as part of the families child quota. If a family adopts a child, that is the one child they are permitted to have. It doesn’t take much research to see that the children in China’s SWIs are there because of governmental policies and poverty.
    http://american-family.org/2006/03/02/china-adoption-ethics-part-one/
    “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,” said Ina Hut, who last month resigned as the head of the Netherlands’ largest adoption agency out of concern about baby trafficking.”
    …“When we adopted in 2006, we were fed the same stories, that there were millions of unwanted girls in China, that they would be left on the street to die if we didn’t help,” said Cathy Wagner, an adoptive mother from Nova Scotia, Canada. “I love my daughter, but if I had any idea my money would cause her to be taken away from another mother who loved her, I never would have adopted.”
    http://kadnexus.wordpress.com/2009/11/13/470/
    What I am saying is, it’s a really, really messy situation at all stages. Raising a well-adjusted child is commendable, but before that there is the whole adoption process, the fact that it’s usually the wealthy adopting “excess” children under what are obviously sometimes murky (to be generous) circumstances. You simply cannot expect to go to a developing country with a ton of cash and not expect to impact people there in some occasionally very serious and unfortunate ways. The traders take the babies and give them to who, other poor rural folk?”
    More from Google:
    “The Lie We Love”: exposing the world orphan myth, Foreign Policy, November/December 2008.
    The story of abandoned or orphaned infants and toddlers in developing countries who need to be whisked away to adoring moms and dads in faraway lands is, unfortunately, largely fiction. So writes E.J. Graff, associate director and senior researcher at the Schuster Institute in her award-winning investigative article “The Lie We Love,” published in Foreign Policy’s Nov./Dec. 2008 issue. The article exposes the myth of a world orphan crisis—and reveals that the disproportionately large amounts of Western money offered in poor or corrupt countries can too often induce unscrupulous middlemen to buy, coerce, defraud, or kidnap children away from families that would have raised them to adulthood.
    The article has received four prestigious journalism awards: the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2008 Sigma Chi Delta Award in Journalism for the Best in Magazine Investigative Reporting; 2008 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, the 2009 Clarion Award for Best Magazine Feature Article; and the 2009 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism honorable mention for Magazine Reporting.
    “The Lie We Love”: exposing the world orphan myth, Foreign Policy, November/December 2008.
    http://www.brandeis.edu/investigate/gender/adoption/index.html
    I don’t stand against adoption at all. What I really would like to see is a much more regulated and ethical approach, and not just a lot of demonizing of “them” and lionizing of “us”. Furthermore, the information about this is out there and readily available to all.

  15. Joyce, get off your high horse. I volunteer at an orphanage. As adoptive parents, they never considered searching for the birth parents at all? There are Chinese websites that are specifically designed to help parents find their “lost” children, ex: Baby Come Home. Not all adoptive parents are saints, just as not all orphanage workers are devils that conspire with traffickers to steal children. If you have such a great understanding of adoption, then you should have already known that. Just look at Pound Pup Legacy.

  16. What nobody has mentioned is how there are victims on both sides of this issue. The parents in China and the parents in the United States. Our job as compassionate people is to try to balance those as best we can.

  17. I think they should let all the babes reunion with there real moms from China . IN the US we have miliions of babes need homes
    but to me is Fashion to adopt from Asia
    i have been all over Asia i meet moms lost there babes to some US poeple and love to get there shild back
    i think they shoud have there right to get the kids back or have contact with them…….LOVE PEACE

  18. Hi every one just left comment there under the name Majid plese like to have my email show.if any poeple like ti contact me . i will love to help moms from china finding there girls .my email mouraq@live.com

  19. This isn’t on the legal aspects of the question at all, but Daughter from Danang is an amazing documentary about a Vietnamese girl who was evacuated from Saigon orphanage at the end of the war and adopted by an American family only to later discover that her mother was still alive. http://www.daughterfromdanang.com/

  20. Guest — Of course not all adopted parents are saints. (Though I think most orphanage workers and volunteers are pretty saintly). And of course not all mainland officials are corrupt. There are no absolutes.
    I was referring to the article above, which sites specific cases of selling children in a corrupt Chinese system, complete with fake papers and wronged parties on all sides — the birth parents, the adoptive parents and, most of all, the kids.
    And if blame is going to go anywhere, it should be targeted where the rot begins.
    Maybe some adoptive parents should do some more due diligence, but my limited experience through friends is that they generally do and that most people adopt in good faith.
    I was also reacting to a comment about that adoptive parents “buy” their children, which I think is an awful way of seeing adoption in general.
    In any case, please don’t put words into my mouth. I never said that all orphanage workers steal and sell children. That would be crazy.
    PS. Just curious. Where do you do volunteer work?

  21. No matter how the law ends up treating these cases, people will be injured and it would be good to see those who were responsible brought to justice in China.

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