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Foreign Parents and Their Adopted Chinese Babies

Statistics show that more than 50,000 Chinese abandoned babies have been adopted by foreign families since the 1990s, and the number is keeping rising. Foreign-related adoption not only helps release the burden of Chinese orphanages, but gives family love to the children who badly need it.

The Lissicks and their two Chinese daughters

In most cases, a couple decides to adopt a child because they are eager to have a baby but cannot have one of their own.

But the situation in the Lissicks family is quite different. Although they could have given birth to their own children, they chose to adopt two Chinese children. Larro Lissick, the mother and a free-lancer, said: "We don't care whether our children are of our own blood. What we do care is that they need a family, and we need children. All children have the right to enjoy a lovely family no matter where they live. We prefer offering our love to the children who are already presented in the world and longing for a family, rather than bringing another baby to the world."

Michael Lissick, 35, a software consultant of a medical insurance company, also owns a private company. He believes to adopt a foreign child would help them understand a different culture.

The Lissicks' request for adopting a Chinese baby was satisfied in June 2000 when they became the parents of their first Chinese daughter -- Maya, from Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, who was eight months old when she was adopted. To show their thanks, the Lissicks donated US$3,000 to the local welfare center.

"The procedure of adoption is very strict," said Larro. There are several hundred adoption organizations in the United States, and only 96 of them are recognized by the Chinese charity organization. "First, we carefully chose an adoption agency to help us with all the procedures. Then we had to fill many forms and provide the information concerning our family. After the organization received our application and all the required materials, they sent one of their staff members to our home to check if the information provided is true. The person asked us many questions."

After this was done, the US adoption organization sent the information to the China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA), which is the only social welfare center to deal with foreign-related adoption. The CCAA then sent the Lissicks the information about the child, together with three of her photos. After the Lissicks showed their interest in her, the CCAA invited them to meet the little girl in China. The whole process took them one and a half year.

Again, in the past November, the Lissicks came to China to adopt their second Chinese daughter -- Aria, taking along with them Maya, who is four years old now. Before they set for the travel to China, Maya drew a picture, in which the two countries, China and the United States, were linked by an airline. Maya explained that her parents would bring her to China to meet her little sister.

When Larro held an eight-month-old baby in her arms in Guangzhou, capital of China's Guangdong Province, Maya knew her dream had come true.

A new life in a new country

After Maya was taken back to Minnesota, it took several months for her to fit into the new environment and feel at home with her new family. She could call her parents "mom" and "dad" before she was one year old. Every year on the day in June, that marks the adoption of Maya, which they call GOTCHADAY, the couple would bring their daughter to a restaurant to celebrate the event. They always let Maya choose her favorite restaurant and order her dish for this special celebration.

Michael loves his daughter very much. In his eyes, Maya is a beautiful, bright and active girl who always has a good appetite. For Maya's sake, he has begun to learn Chinese. He said that they have decided to send Maya to Chinese classes because they don't want the Chinese girl to lose her own culture. "When Maya grows older, I will bring her to visit China," said Michael. 

Maya is very much fond of her dad too. Every morning, when Michael is going to work, she would rush to the door to give her dad a hug and say goodbye. Occasionally, when she gets up too late and misses the hug, she would cry. Every day, after dinner, the parents read books and tell stories to Maya. "Maya likes stories, and always asks many questions," Michael said. "She is just like me. When I was a little boy, I had a lot of questions too."

Maya is growing up like an American child. She now speaks and thinks in English, and will receive American education in the future. Her parents are making a saving for her college education, though she is in kindergarten.

One time, when Michael was staring at Maya who was sleeping sweetly, he suddenly felt sad. "If we had not adopted Maya, what would have happened to her? If we had had our own baby, this child would have lost her chance to be adopted," he said to himself. Lorra said that at that moment they decided not to have their own baby but to adopt another daughter.

Aria is from Guangdong Province. She was found abandoned outside a supermarket before she was admitted to the local welfare center. Aria looks quiet and sweet. She likes to smile. Being curious and excited about her little sister, Maya often drags Aria's socks.

Sometimes, children can be as serious as adults. The Lissicks never intend to hide the fact that Maya is their adopted daughter. Once Lorra told Maya: "You have your own parents who gave birth to you. But for many reasons they could not raise you. So we have the opportunity to live with you."

"But why can't they raise me?"

"I don't know. I guess they were forced to do so. But we will never leave you. We will be your parents forever."

"Even when you couldn't hold me in your arms?"

"Of course, even when we couldn't hold you in our arms, we are still your parents."

Americans prefer Chinese babies

According to statistics from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, many Chinese abandoned babies have been adopted by American families since the adoption service began in the early 1990s. There were only 61 babies adopted by American families in 1991. However, the number rose to 5,053 in 2002. In total, up to last year, more than 35,000 children, about 90 percent of the foreign-related adoptions, have been adopted by American families.

When the Lissicks came to China to adopt their daughters, they stayed at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou. As the US consulate in Guangzhou is the only office to be authorized to issue visas to adopted children, all American families who want to have Chinese babies must go to Guangzhou.

"When I walked through the corridor in the White Swan Hotel, I could hear baby cries all around. In the hall of the hotel, we met many foreigners with their adopted Chinese children," recalled Larro.

Besides the United States, CCAA has also received foster families from Denmark, Finland, Spain, France, Sweden, Iceland, Ireland, Holland, Norway, New Zealand, British, Canada, Belgium and Australia.

Statistics from the Citizenship and Immigration Canada shows that 618 Chinese abandoned children were adopted by Canadian families in 2001 and the figure for 2002 rose to 771. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France, 210 Chinese children were adopted by French families in 2002.

Why Chinese children?

The history of Americans adopting foreign children started from the end of
World War II, when many war orphans from Vietnam and Korea were adopted. According to statistics up to August 2003, more than 1.6 million children had been adopted in the United States, and more than 20,000 of them are from foreign countries.

According to Mr. Zhong, chairman of Chinese Children Adoption International (CCAI), the high rate of infertility is one of the reasons for Westerners' child adoption. The infertility rate among married couples is as high as 9-12 percent in United States, and that in Canada is 12-15 percent.

Cost is the second reason why people prefer to adopt a foreign child. It is expensive to receive medical treatments for infertility, not mentioning that those medical treatments are not always effective. So many people choose adoption. The charge for an American family to adopt a child from their own country is US$20,000 to US$50,000, while the cost for them to adopt a Chinese child is only US$15,000. The family also has to wait three of four years before they are permitted to adopt a child in the United States, while the waiting time for a Chinese baby is much shorter. Furthermore, there is the problem that many US biological parents want their children back after the adoption, bringing headache legal issues to the foster families.

Chinese abandoned children are more and more popular in foreign countries not only because of the low charges, but also because of the active cooperation of the Chinese government, who has enacted specific laws and regulations on foreign-related adoption.

The other reason is that most foreigners believe Chinese children are healthy, beautiful and bright. On the other side, in the United States, those families who have adopted children can have their tax reduced.

Every year, thousands of American families ask the CCAI to help them adopt Chinese abandoned children. In return, with the CCAI's help, more than 70 children would be adopted by American families every month.

What the orphanages say
The China Center for Adoption Affairs established in 1996 is the only licensed Chinese agency for international child adoption. It is appraised as "excellent and professional" by many foreign adopters.

Orphanages welcome international adoptions because they can reduce the number of orphans under their care. So far more than 200 orphanages in Guangdong, Guangxi, Jiangxi, Hunan, Hubei and Anhui have foreign adoption service, with Guangdong alone having 37 such orphanages in its urban and rural areas. 

One of the employees of an orphanage in Nanning, capital city of southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, said, "We really hope some people will come to adopt some of our children because we cannot even afford enough beds for them." The orphanage has submitted the profiles of more than 100 orphans to the China Center for Adoption Affairs to wait for foreign adoptions.

The situation is similar at the municipal orphanage of south China's Shenzhen City. The orphanage originally had a capacity of 200 beds but it now accommodates nearly 300 orphans.

Sha Pei, a 16-year-old orphan in the orphanage said: "Another five children will go to the United States in November. I hope I can go too, but I'm too old. They want younger children." Sha said she wants to go to the United States because it snows there.

Who are left behind?

"Now we have about 60 disabled orphans and only a dozen or so healthy boys and girls. We don't worry about the healthy ones because there will be people willing to adopt them sooner or later. But few adopters will choose disabled children," said Zhong, an employee of an orphanage in Foshan City, south China's Guangdong Province.

Zhong said that disabled children often account for 60-80 percent of orphans in Chinese orphanages. They, in worst need of help, receive least concerns because most adopters prefer healthy children.

The China Center for Adoption Affairs noticed the problem and hence publicized preferential policies for adopters to adopt disabled children. Over 20 foreign adoption agencies have endorsed the policies.

"Quite a lot of American families are willing to adopt children with physiological defects such as blindness, heart disease, bisexuality and limb deformities," Zhong said. "There was once a Shaanxi girl who had heavy black hairs grown on her face, nevertheless, an American couple adopted her and let her receive skin-grafting. She looks very pretty now. " 

Such disabled children are acceptable because their diseases or defects are curable; however, nobody will adopt children having cerebral palsy or infectious diseases such as hepatitis B, which are hard to cure.

Cerebral palsy-ridden children are more possibly to be abandoned and medical treatments of the disease cost a big part of the orphanages' yearly allocation.

Foreign adopters in general require their babies to be intelligent and healthy, and physical appearance seems not as important, said an employee with the Shenzhen Orphanage.

About the US$3,000 donation

"We seldom receive reports or feedbacks about the use of the money gotten from adoptions. We are just briefly notified that it has been spent on improvements of environments of orphanages. I think they should at least provide annual reports, even if details on every item of expenditure is not available," a program manager from a foreign adoption agency said.

The Chinese law for international adoption stipulates that all donations to orphanages should be spent on betterments of orphans' living conditions and donors should be informed about the whereabouts of their donations. But the fact is that almost every interviewed foreign adopter expressed that they never receive any feedbacks on the expenditure of their donations and they know nothing about where their money eventually went.

Some people working with the adoption service suggest to further legislate the spending of the US$3,000-donation so as to limit fiscal loopholes.

Actually embezzlement of donations already happened. In January 2001, Lin Jiayu, head of the Yanping District Orphanage, Nanping City, Fujian Province, south China, was taken into custody on charges of graft, embezzlement and taking bribery. He withheld US$12,700 of donations from 49 foreign adoptions and divided the money with his assistant Lin Fengying.

Foreign adopters also complained about the poor professional quality of some Chinese orphanage employees.

"Sometimes orphanages hide the facts that the to-be-adopted children have handicaps. After their arrival at the orphanages, the adopters find the situations of the children are not the same as described in their profiles provided by the China Center for Adoption Affairs. Although most adopters will take the children any way, they don't feel happy. It happens every now and then and dishonesty exists till today," said a foreign adoption worker. "I think they either lie or neglect their duty -- both result from poor professional quality."

Double identities for the adopted children

The China Center for Adoption Affairs requires foreign foster parents to report twice on the condition of their adoptee in the first year of the adoption. The adoption procedures are finished after the last report is made. But this does not mean that foster parents will have nothing to worry about in the future.

As other parents, the foster parents worry about how they should face their children when they reach their teens. Teenagers tend to challenge everything, including their parents, during this period. Adopted children are no exceptional for the adolescent period when many of them want to find out who are their real parents and even hope to find them.

Since international adoptions were introduced to China in the early 1990s and most of the overseas Chinese children are still under the age of 10, such problems have not yet shown up. But Zhong predicted that the problem is likely to come out in five or six years.

American parents share a common view that they should let their foster children know their Chinese origin because the fact of adoption cannot be kept as a secret.

Foreign parents choose to tell their foster children about their motherland and bring them back to China for travel. This may hopefully help these children recognize their double identities. 

(The Beijing News December 2, 2003, translated by Wu Nanlan and Chen Chao for China.org.cn, December 17, 2003)

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