How adoption has become an integral part of China’s global agenda.
At the outset of 2016 the Chinese government announced the end of its decades-long One-Child Policy. Introduced in the early 1980s alongside sweeping economic reforms, it was (and remains) the strictest fertility regulation in history, the goal of which—in the eyes of state authorities—was to cultivate a smaller, more competitive population that could help transform the nation into a global leader. After preventing roughly 400 million births and climbing to the top of the world economy, China has largely achieved these objectives. Yet, tragically, the combination of childbearing restrictions and parental preferences for healthy male heirs also led to the abortion and abandonment of countless female babies and special needs children, many of whom ended up in state-run orphanages. In a process managed by the Chinese government, over 140,000 of these children—primarily healthy girls—have joined Western middle-class families spread across 16 different countries through adoption.
International adoption has mushroomed into a multimillion-dollar industry.
International adoption can be controversial because it inherently mixes care with consumerism—at $20,000 to $30,000 US dollars per placement, it has mushroomed into a multimillion-dollar industry upon which many Chinese orphanages and other service providers have become reliant. Typically, nations that allow outsiders to care for their most vulnerable children tend to be seen as lower down on the global hierarchy. When China first began its international adoption program in 1991, its economy was only beginning to transform, fitting the usual model in which babies tend to be sent from developing to industrialized regions. However, unlike other child “sending” countries, China has continued to place children abroad and accept foreign resources for its orphanages while enjoying unprecedented economic growth and prosperity. Why is the Chinese state allowing Westerners to assist and rear its most marginalized youth when it now has the ability to do so itself?