Archive for January 22nd, 2008

I’ve been writing about international adoption for a few years now and have to admit that I have never quite managed to get a handle on prevailing attitudes toward adoption from China. Some might suggest that this is a result of obstinacy on my part arising from the fact that I adopted from Cambodia and therefore lug around some crate of sour grapes that flavor my perceptions of programs in countries that are touted to be “clean”, and a bit of that is, perhaps, applicable.

(There is no doubt that I feel Cambodia was singled out for reasons that have nothing to do with suffering by comparison to any imagined purity or transparency in other corrupt nations, and without my understanding that some do seek the domino effect in putting an end to international adoptions forever and everywhere I would be very confused about the specific treatment one crooked little Southeast Asian country continues to receive. That being said, however, I would insist that the real world predominance of corruption should not be a reason to sentence children to short and miserable lives in the countries they happened to have been born in, but rather continue to offer the option of adoption to some while working to eliminate corrupt government practices on a much wider level through effective use of global organizations that should be addressing these issues directly. The UN, for instance, could be using its multi-billion dollar budget and the clout it buys to exert real pressure, rather than continue to pussyfoot around dictators, conflicts, blatant human rights violations, dirty politics and ruling-for-personal gain, and rather than simply pulling the rug out from under children in the name of easy expediency and cheap press.)

It does seem, however, that adoptions from China tend to be bathed in some rarefied light structured to convey a sense that, because the country has imposed hoops it chooses to jump through, all is kosher in the adoption process there. Adoptive parents with Chinese-born kids have been accused of carrying a tinge of “my adoption was cleaner than yours was”, and of sticking up for China’s system even when faced with strong evidence that the country is every bit as crooked, or more so, than others.

There is, at the moment, a fight going on in the UK between Channel 4 broadcasting and the Chinese embassy in London over a documentary that is scheduled to air in early October. The program (or “programme”, as it is to Brits who are quite fond of extra letters for the sake of tradition) is about child trafficking within China and is reported to quote a UN consultant saying that “at least 70,000 young children a year are sold or stolen in China.”

The trafficking is, apparently, not international adoption-related, but about internal problems caused by the one-child policy.

The programme makers filmed undercover in China, speaking to parents who had had a child stolen or had sold a child, and to traffickers. More boys are taken than girls because they will grow up to earn more money. Most are taken for childless couples, although some are sold into prostitution.

The Times carried what appears to be a fair piece on the situation, saying that the “Chinese are angry that they are not being given an advance screening of the documentary, which claims that the trade in stolen children is widespread.”

I had come across the story, so was surprised to see it referred to in a very different color on one of the adoption groups I read, posted by a parent that had adopted from China, that suggested the story was “fed” to the press by Amnesty International, hinting at some sort of plot to sling the mud of child trafficking in the direction of the Chinese government.

The theme was picked up by a few other readers who apparently got the story only from the provided link that led to the “tabloid Sunday Mirror”, indicating also that there was some concealing of sources going on, as if a suggestion that 70,000 children “kidnapped there every year and traded on the black market” was an outrageous claim, and only made to discredit China in its run up to the Olympics.

(Others pointed out that this sort information was valid and should not be dismissed out of hand and voiced concern over such issues in China.)

If we could for a moment include adoption in the bigger picture instead of giving into the temptation to remove it from the shelf that contains all the issues that stem from the system of government in China and stand it alone in the middle of the room as if it exists in a vacuum, it seems a very good time now to shine a bright light into many corners in that vast and complex nation.

The run-up to the Olympics has created an opportunity for many organizations to focus on China in the hope that some changes might be inspired by the extra attention, but unfortunately it seems that so far nothing much has been sticky enough to overcome the propaganda machines’ Teflon from both China and the IOC.

A year ago, Reporters Without Borders officially opposed holding the Olympic Games in Beijing, saying, in part:

The world sports movement must now speak out and call for the Chinese people to be allowed to enjoy the freedoms it has been demanding for years. The Olympic Charter says sport must be “at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Athletes and sports lovers have the right and the duty to defend this charter. The IOC should show some courage and should do everything possible to ensure that Olympism’s values are not freely flouted by the Chinese organisers.

Just this week there has been press coverage of an Olympic torch-style relay through all the countries that have seen genocide in an attempt to draw attention to China’s support of Sudan.

Unsurprisingly, the Cambodian government wasn’t one bit happy about Mia Farrow showing up at Toul Sleng (now the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, but formerly a torture center that saw thousands suffer and die) to gain international attention for this effort to “push Beijing to pressure Sudan into ending the violence in Darfur”. Cambodia gets a lot of money from China and has no intention of jeopardizing future funding for the sake of a waste of time like human rights violations.

(I had to chuckle at the interior ministry spokesman’s take quoted in AFP: “The Olympic Games are not a political issue. Therefore, we won’t allow any rally to light a torch.)

That China is now a powerhouse is not a question, but what sort of power it wields most certainly is. And whether or not anyone cares is another.

Not rocking the adoption boat, on one hand, or jumping up and down hoping it sinks under the weight that comes with tossing every bit of dirt in the country into it no matter how unrelated in reality on the other, are both unhelpful, as is going all rah-rah because the Olympics are coming to town.

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