IN almost any adoption, the new parents accept that their good fortune arises out of the hardship of the child’s first parents. The equation is usually tempered by the thought that the birth parents either are no longer alive or chose to give the child a better life than they could provide. On Aug. 5, this newspaper published a front-page article from China that contained chilling news for many adoptive parents: government officials in Hunan Province, in southern China, had seized babies from their parents and sold them into what the article called “a lucrative black market in children.” The news, the latest in a slow trickle of reports describing child abduction and trafficking in China, swept through the tight communities of families — many of them in the New York area — who have adopted children from China. For some, it raised a nightmarish question: What if my child had been taken forcibly from her parents? And from that question, inevitably, tumble others: What can or should adoptive parents do? Try to find the birth parents? And if they could, what then?
According to the news reports, the children were removed from their families when they were several months old, then taken to the orphanages. “The first thing I did was look in my files,” he said, speaking in deliberative, unsparing sentences. According to his paperwork, his daughter had been found on a specific date, as a newborn. According to the State Department, 64,043 Chinese children were adopted in the United States between 1999 and 2010, far more than from any other country. Child abduction and trafficking have plagued other international adoption programs, notably in Vietnam and Romania, and some have shut down to stop the black market trade. But many parents saw China as the cleanest of international adoption choices. Its population-control policy, which limited many families to one child, drove couples to abandon subsequent children or to give up daughters in hopes of bearing sons to inherit their property and take care of them in old age. China had what adoptive parents in America wanted: a supply of healthy children in need of families.
“ADOPTION is bittersweet,” said Susan Soon-Keum Cox, vice president for public policy and external affairs at Holt International, a Christian adoption agency based in Eugene, Ore., with an extensive program in China. The process connects birth parents, child and adoptive parents in an unequal relationship in which each party has different needs and different leverage. It begins in loss. Adoptive parents and adoption agencies have powerful incentives not to talk about trafficking or to question whether a child was given up voluntarily, especially given how difficult it is to know for certain. Such talk can unsettle the children or anger the Chinese government, which might limit the families’ future access to the country or add restrictions to future adoptions. And the possible answer is one that no parent wants to hear.
Most parents contacted for this article declined to comment or agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity. Several said they never discussed trafficking, even with other adoptive parents. To a query from The New York Times posted on a Web forum for adoptive parents, one parent urged silence, writing, “The more we put China child trafficking out there, the more chances your child has to encounter a schoolmate saying, ‘Oh, were you stolen from your bio family?’ ”
China child trafficking is a very serious problem and it needs to be addressed. Stealing children from their parents is uncivilized and vulgar behavior. My heart goes out to all of those biological parents.