Corruption at Chinese adoption agencies has resulted in children being stolen from their families and sold internationally for steep prices and under false pretenses
Children playing outside their home in the village of Lang Shi Cun in Hunan Province / Deborah Jian Lee
HUNAN PROVINCE, China -- This spring, the business magazine Caixin made headlines around the world when it uncovered corruption at Chinese adoption agencies involving children stolen from their families in Hunan Province and sold for steep prices in the international adoption arena. The news hit hard in the United States, which is home to about 60,000 children adopted from China, mostly girls.
For years, even social scientists have supported a widely held belief that Chinese orphanages are overrun with girls abandoned by their birth families. Two decades ago, when the gender ratio first started to skew sharply toward boys, many assumed these official figures were distorted by millions of unreported newborn girls. The country's strict one-child policy, they reasoned, prompted a widespread number of parents to conceal their additional children to avoid harsh penalties. Because of an enduring preference for boys, they surmised, many parents hid their girls or simply abandoned them.
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In recent years, that theory has been increasingly challenged. "The more we look at the data, the more we realize the hidden children, they are not there," says Yong Cai, a sociologist at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "They have never been born or they have simply been aborted." While some do conceal their children or abandon them, sex-selective abortion and poor health care for baby girls account for most of the sex ratio disparity for very young children, which now stands at about 120 males for every 100 females, Cai says.