Only healthy, married foreigners can adopt from China

China is restricting foreign adoptions, banning would-be parents who are obese, unmarried or on antidepressants.

People who are obese, single or on antidepressants will soon have no chance of adopting a Chinese child, foreign adoption agencies are reporting.

Starting May 1, China is imposing new restrictions on foreign adoptions. The move comes as China is inundated with adoption requests from North America and Europe.

"They have the right to make rules," Marie-Claire Gagnon, president of the Federation of Adoptive Parentsof Quebec, said Wednesday.

"There will be a lot of possibilities to adopt for the rest of the people, but they will have to get married and they will have to respect the rules."

Under the new rules, prospective parents must be between the ages of 30 and 50 and must have a body mass index — a measure ofbody fatness— of no more than 40.

Only couples who have been married for two years or more will be considered, even though Beijing used to allow unmarried foreigners to adopt.

The rules bar parents who take medication for psychiatric conditions, including depression and anxiety.

Those with a "severe facial deformity" are also excluded, although one agency wonders if Chinese officials are not explaining this restrictionproperly in English.

"I'm not sure that was translated correctly. A lot of things get lost in translation," said Keith Wallace of the U.S. Families Thru International Adoption Inc.

The new rules are in place to ensure that only the most "qualified families" are adopting Chinese children, explains one agency, the Texas-based Harrah's Adoption International Mission.

Wallace said he doesn't criticize China for the move.

"A lot of people are trying to portray this as a negative thing," he said. "But I don't see it that way.

"All states have criteria. China is not doing anything out of the ordinary. Their criteria is well thought out … very fair and consistent."

The agencies said Chinese officials told them about the rules at a Dec. 8 meeting in Beijing.

An employee of the government-run China Centre of Adoption Affairs, the agency that oversees foreign adoptions, said it has issued new guidelines but refused to confirm the details released by the American agencies. He wouldn't give his name.

Wait times for adoption rise

A sharp increase in foreign applications for adoption has led to a backlog in approvals, with waiting times rising from six months in early 2005 to as long as 15 months now, according to adoption agencies.

Canadians adopted 6,245 children from China between 1993 and 2002, according to the federal government. American parents have adopted a record 48,000 Chinese children since 1989.

Wallace said the new rules will likely narrow the pool of applicants for adopting Chinese babies, but because demand already far outstrips supply, this would only shorten the 14- to 15-month waiting period.

"I don't think it will necessarily have a major impact because there are still a lot of people wanting to adopt," he said. "There is a positive aspect —the wait will not be as long for families who do meet the criteria."

Wallace said those already in the process of adopting should be exempt from the new rules.

Timothy Sutfin, executive director of the U.S. New Beginnings Family and Children's Services Inc., is advising applicants to look to Vietnam and other countries if the new rules make adopting in China too difficult.

With files from the Associated Press