Civil Liberties

Chinese Babies: A Seller's Market, Except in China


China is tightening its requirements for foreigners adopting abandoned baby girls, which initially alarmed me, until I realized that my wife and I probably still qualify. We have one daughter from China and have been thinking of getting another, although the cost is daunting. Citing adoption agency websites, The New York Times claims "adoptions cost about $15,000," but in our experience the total was almost twice that. (You do get a $10,000 tax credit after the adoption is finalized.) But assuming we can come up with the money, it sounds like we meet the new criteria. As of May, according to the Times, adoptive parents will have to be high school graduates who are under 50 and married at least two years (five if either spouse has been divorced). Single parents, who already were disfavored, will be disqualified, as will those with criminal records, body mass indexes of 40 or more (which is quite obese), or serious health problems such as AIDS or cancer. People taking prescription drugs for anxiety or depression are also barred. The income requirement could be met by any middle-class family; the net worth requirement is tougher, but our home equity should do the trick.

Obviously, though, many people who would make fine parents will be disqualified under the new rules, which are intended not only to maximize children's prospects of living in a secure and stable environment but to discourage applications. Last year about 6,500 Chinese children (overwhelmingly girls) were adopted by Americans, and the Times says China recently has seen "an enormous spike in applications by foreigners, which has far exceeded the number of babies." It's not hard to see why. Although expensive, the Chinese adoption process is reliable; the girls are generally healthy, having ended up in orphanages mainly because of their gender, as opposed to handicaps, abuse, or neglect; and the orphanages seem to take good care of them.

The real puzzle is why they're not adopted domestically. Although the Chinese government no doubt welcomes all the money that flows into the country, directly and indirectly, as a result of its adoption industry, it is officially worried about a looming gender imbalance that will mean large numbers of young men with no chance of marrying and settling down—not a welcome prospect for any country, let alone one that values order (to put it kindly) as much as China does. If the government refuses to eliminate its reproductive restrictions (which it does not even acknowledge as part of the gender imbalance problem, blaming it all on an irrational preference for boys), it could at least encourage domestic adoption, rather than shipping off thousands of Chinese girls every year. Try to imagine a similar scenario in the U.S. or another Western country, where babies of the majority ethnic group had to be sent overseas for adoption. Whenever my wife and I went out in public in Changsha and Guangzhou with our daughter Mei, we were surrounded by people oohing and ahing over her and offering parenting tips (or so we gathered from the gestures). It's hard to believe there aren't enough families in China willing to take in these girls, especially if subsidies were provided. Then again, I am grateful for the seeming irrationality of the government's policy, and I suspect so are most of the exported girls when they grow up, having been raised in freer and more prosperous countries.