China has banned groups and individuals from privately adopting abandoned infants, making it much harder for babies without families to find good homes. The country’s Ministry of Civil Affairs announced Tuesday that people who find an abandoned child must immediately tell local residential committees and the police and not adopt the child at will.
Tens of thousands of infants are abandoned each year in China due primarily to its strict one-child policy, which limits most urban couples to one child and rural couples to two. A traditional preference for male heirs leads many families to abandon the girls and disabled children that have not been aborted, hoping to have a boy. Poverty and the social stigma for unwed mothers are also factors.
China’s adoption law forbids baby trafficking, including in the name of adoption, but did not specify whether individuals could keep abandoned babies. The new rules that forbid keeping such babies are outlined in a document from several government departments that was posted on the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ website.
The new rules mean people who want to adopt Chinese children domestically must meet the requirements leveled under official channels, including being healthy, over 30, and childless.
People who use abandoned children for illegal and profitable ends will be severely punished, the rules say, without specifying what that entails.
The document also sets out measures police should take when an abandoned baby is found, requiring them to try to find the parents or guardians. The police are to transfer children to a government-sanctioned nursing home for temporary care. The homes only take the children under official care if no guardian is found within a certain period.
China’s chronically underfunded state orphanage system has been unable to adequately provide shelter for many of the children who have been abandoned. Often, such services have been left to private citizens with few resources and no legal authority. In January, the issue was highlighted when a fire at an illegally run orphanage killed six children and one young adult.
Zhou Xiaozheng of Renmin University’s School of Society and Population Studies said around 200,000 babies are abandoned in China each year, mostly girls whose parents wanted to try again for a boy.
“It’s good for the government to strengthen its management of abandoned children, but it will also bring revenue to the government because any potential adopters must pay a handsome adoption fee,” Zhou said.
But the revenue will only come if families are willing to pay the fee to adopt. In a country where thousands of children are orphaned, some question whether making the process more difficult and expensive is going to remedy the problem.