Ronda Kaysen: From the start, Malinda Seymore suspected something was amiss about her adoptive daughter's birth story. The Chinese orphanage told her that Zoe was a foundling, left on a bridge on the day of her birth with a note written on red paper by her birth parents. But three other adoptive families received similar notes, written on the same red paper, when they adopted their daughters from the same orphanage. Seymore suspected she wasn't getting the whole story. But with only the orphanage's word to go on, there was little she could do but wonder.
Eight years later, she is still wondering. And with good reason. This summer, the Los Angeles Times reported that corrupt officials in the Chinese government kidnapped babies from their homes and sold them to orphanages for upwards of $3,000 a piece. This is not the first time that reports of trafficking have trickled out of China, but it is by far the most shocking incident to date.
The latest news unleashed a torrent of conflicting emotions within the adoptive community ranging from worry to anger to outright denial. Some see the news as further proof that their lingering suspicions are well founded.
"There are all of these unanswered questions and inconsistencies in the information I have that raised this issue of whether there is some corruption involved," Seymore told momlogic.
When news broke that orphanages were paying for children, Seymore saw that as a clue as to what might have happened to Zoe, who is now 9. Now the mystery of the note had several possible solutions. Maybe Zoe wasn't a foundling, but was instead delivered to the orphanage by her parents, and the orphanage gave them the red paper on which to write the note. That scenario would mean the abandonment document is a forgery. Or, it could be that someone else delivered Zoe to the orphanage and that person wrote the note, throwing her entire story into doubt. Whatever the truth is, the facts still don't add up.
"The not knowing is one of the hardest things Zoe has to deal with," said Seymore, who adopted a second daughter from China, Maya, in 2005. "Not knowing who her birth parents are, not knowing why. Every time I have to say 'I don't know,' it reinforces a problem for her," she said. "The frustration is I don't feel that I can emphasize what I do know because what I do know isn't necessarily true."
It's no secret that many of the healthy babies -- most of them girls -- who turn up in Chinese orphanages are there because of China's one-child policy. The assumption has long been that parents relinquished their daughters because they couldn't afford the penalty, or hoped to later bear a son in a country with a preference for boys. But over the last several years, numerous reports have revealed that kidnapping, coercion, fraud, and money have also played a role in how some of these children ended up in orphanages.
The latest revelations are truly shocking. For the first time, Chinese families have come forward in the American press to tell harrowing tales of how their children were kidnapped by government officials and sold without their knowledge or consent to orphanages for international adoption. Family planning officials trekked into rural villages and plucked babies from their homes, snatching them from their mothers' arms and selling them for a handsome sum.
For American parents, the chilling news is one more reminder that the official story they've been handed about their child may not be the real one. And they're left with a very dark alternative to ponder. In this case, they're left to wonder if their child's birth parents did not willingly relinquish an unwanted child, but are instead grieving for a stolen one.
"Stone silence would be one way to describe the majority of families. They don't know how to respond," said Brian Stuy, whose organization, Research-China.org, researches the family histories of adoptees. He has three adopted daughters from China.
China is by far the most popular country parents go to when trying to adopt internationally. In the last five years, Americans have adopted nearly 31,000 children from China. As demand increases for Chinese babies, so too does the possibility of corruption. The United States continues to support adoption from China, even while it has banned adoptions from countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Guatemala because of reports of trafficking and corruption.
A 2005 congressional report found that trafficking of women and children is "pervasive" in China, and many of the infants and young children were kidnapped for adoption. According to the report, 250,000 women and children were sold in China during 2003.
"To assume that these kind of stories are rare defies an understanding of the Chinese government's goals and objectives," Research-China.org's Stuy said. Corruption and trafficking "is much more widespread than what people would like to believe."
But many parents who adopt internationally don't have a deep understanding of Chinese culture and politics. They put their trust in international adoption agencies and Chinese orphanages, assuming both are reputable. Many parents don't want to ask too many questions for fear they'll lose any chance to adopt the child, especially after they've been matched with a baby and bonded over photographs.
"We, as adoptive parents, believed our adoptive agencies when they told us the adoption system was a clean one, and we naively believed that and didn't check further," said Dr. Jane Liedtke, founder of Our Chinese Daughters Foundation, an organization that encourages adoptive parents to learn about Chinese cultural history. She adopted her daughter from China in 1994. She encourages parents to press the agencies and the orphanages to tell them a fuller story before they bring their new child home.
Seymore, who lives in Texas, has begun to search for her daughters' birth parents. In 2007, they returned to China and visited the site where Zoe was allegedly abandoned and the hospital where Maya was found. Seymore suspected that Maya was born inside the hospital, not left at the entrance as she'd been told, but when she pressed hospital officials for birth records, they were silent. She hopes that she might eventually be able to uncover more clues, whatever they are, about her daughters.
"Obviously the worst-case scenario is that our kids were stolen," said Seymore. "But if we know, we can deal with it. It is that absence of information that makes you wonder and makes you worry."
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, New York Observer and AM New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.|