The Changing Face of China’s Orphans

With the recent news that Russia has closed its international adoption program, many articles on adoption from other countries have made headlines as well. Several I have read talked about the huge decline in adoptions from China, but most blamed it on more stringent requirements for adoptive families. Few articles touched on the other main reason that adoptions have slowed, which is the changing population of orphaned children.

Over the next few days, I would like to discuss some of the reasons for this shift. Before I continue, I am giving a full disclaimer that I am not a researcher. I do not have a PhD in population studies. I am just a person who has worked with orphaned children for a decade now and who asks a lot of questions about topics I am passionate about. Anything I write is my opinion alone.

So let’s start ten years ago when I first began my work in China. The majority of orphanages looked very similar in their populations, with row after row of baby cribs filled with “healthy” baby girls. This is the image so many people still mistakenly have in their minds today. We all learned that the reason these countless baby girls were there was because families in China could only have one child, and the cultural preference was for a son. Female infant abandonment was known and fairly common, and so almost every baby I would be handed was a girl. This was reflected in international adoptions as well, as 95% of the children finding homes were “non special needs” (NSN) girls.

What a difference a decade makes. Now the majority of international adoptions from China are children with special needs. A critical statistic to understand is that 90-98% of children now being abandoned in China are children with medical needs, depending on which orphanage director you speak with. For gender, it is now an equal number of boys and girls entering institutions. The population of children living in China’s orphanages has changed completely. Chinese institutions today are filled with children with heart defects, cleft lip and palate, cerebral palsy, and every other sort of medical need possible. The “healthy” baby girls are few and far between.

So where have they gone? I receive phone calls from waiting parents and even some adoption agencies who still believe that there is some sort of conspiracy going on in China where they are hiding all the NSN girls to keep the wait to adopt artificially long. People will tell me, “I know they have to be there.”

The reality is that they are not. Over the next few days, we’ll discuss some of the reasons why things have changed, in addition to why I feel international adoption is still so vitally important.

~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer

Tomorrow: Changing Attitudes Towards Girls in China

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12 Comments to “The Changing Face of China’s Orphans”

  1. Stephen 17 August 2014 at 11:26 am #

    Sorry, this reply is little bit late, but the topic is very interesting.

    My wife and I are Chinese born Canadians (came as teens), and have been trying to have a child for ten years. In the summer of 2013, we used connections to meet child welfare services in two northeast cities: Harbin and Changchun. We used our old, long expired Hukous (ids) for the meetings. We were very surprised to learn that we could easily adopt an infant child in both cities. The maximum waiting period was 3 months.

    Of course, as Canadians, we can’t privately adopt. This was more than curiosity as we seriously considered the possibly of moving back to China to start a family, among other reasons. The staff that we met told me us there are still large numbers of healthy children given up for adoption, but they don’t end up in traditional orphanages. The comment by cfl is probably most correct. They are adopted by wealthier Chinese families.

  2. cfl 1 March 2013 at 1:16 am #

    I visited some of my long distance relatives in China, their province allow them to have two if the first child is a girl. In fact, they really want to have a girl first so they could have another. One of the relatives have two boys. But the second one is not reported. Otherwise, they have to pay fine which is as much as 1 year worth of average salary. The very poor ones would have more kids as they won’t be able to pay the fine anyway. So, in the rural area, some families would have more kids. With technology, they could also find out the gender before deciding whether they want an abortion. One Beijing native told me that they and many wealthy business man are now adopting girls. They work with hospital nurses to find out who wants to give up their baby. The nurse and the birth mother would get paid. As people are more educated, they also are more accepted to have only daughter. I think all those are reasons why few babies are abandoned.

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