My last two blogs discussed Kay Ann Johnson’s research on abandonment and orphanage care in China and whether Chinese parents desire to adopt girls. This blog continues to explore domestic adoption within China.
Johnson and her colleagues have interviewed 1200 Chinese adoptive families. Many of these interviews were in person, locating adoptive families by word of mouth.
Johnson says that the procedural paperwork, discrimination, and expense (relative to income) faced by parents adopting internationally is far less than those faced by the Chinese families who adopted children in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Chinese authorities wanted to forestall the practice of trying to circumvent the family planning laws by having a friend or relative “adopt” a daughter while the couple tried again for a son. Sometimes these adoptions were real adoptions in which the child assumed the same status in the adoptive family as a birthchild, but other times these adoptions were temporary arrangements where relatives kept the girl to hide her until a son was born, then brought her back to her parents.
In order to forestall situations like the above, Chinese officials began in the mid-1980s to allow only older, childless couples to adopt. Couples who had birthchildren and adopted a child were, unbelievably, treated as though they had given birth to an overquota child. They were subject to the same kinds of fines (sometimes equivalent to one to two years’ salary) and penalties including job harassment, wage reduction and even job loss.
Limiting adoption to the childless did shrink the potential pool of adoptive parents, making it less likely that a couple would assume they would be able to have a girl adopted out without penalty or plan to “hide” the child in a “foster” home, but they also led to more outright abandonments and forced many adoptions “underground”.
Orphans—children whose parents could be proven to be dead—were not subject to these restrictions. About ten percent of the families in Johnson’s research adopted orphans, and did not encounter any official harassment even if they already had birthchildren.
In practice, Johnson found that younger, childless couples were in reality seldom punished for adopting, even though only parents past their early-to-mid-thirties were officially eligible to adopt. But half of Johnson’s sample consisted of families who already had children. Sometimes the adoptive parents kept their adoptions secret. Other times local officials looked the other way so that the child could have a loving, permanent home. But at least one third of these families were punished. The most common penalty was stiff fines. Less often, one of the parents was mandated to be sterilized.
Unlike overquota birthparents, the overquota adoption parents faced the possibility that their child could be taken from them to a childless family or even to an orphanage. Paying the fines and/or agreeing to the sterilization usually prevented the child being taken, but some families of course could not afford this. Informal adoptions were problematic in that the parent couldn’t register the child for the hukou, a document which a child needs to go to school and get medical care and other state services. Some families were able to register the children several years later, but some children had to go to less desirable schools or no school at all.
The Chinese government has liberalized some of these policies in recent years. It has also encouraged foster parenting and a program where Chinese families develop a relationship with an orphan and have her in their home for holidays and some weekends, almost as if she were a niece.
Much more can be found in Johnson’s book. What we need to remember is that no matter what we think of the Chinese government policy, many Chinese love sons and daughters and are willing to sacrifice for them both.
Please see this other blog in the China Adoption Book Review series: