Inside Politics

Canadian parents wary as China confronts baby trafficking


When Cathy Wagner of Bridgewater, N.S., heard a CBC story last week about babies stolen from their families several years ago in Hunan province, her reaction was that nothing has changed.

She's the mother of a 5-year-old girl adopted from the same region in China. "It's like a dirty secret", she says, "but it's time we started talking about it."

CBC News' China correspondent, Anthony Germain, interviewed two parents in China who said the family-planning officials who enforce the country's one-child policy seized at least 20 babies, including their own, and sent them to orphanages to be adopted abroad.

"By changing their identities and processing the stolen children through legally recognized orphanages, the chances of any impoverished Chinese parent ever finding their child are almost nonexistent," Germain reported.

The babies were given false papers and sold to orphanages who stood to profit from donation fees given by overseas adoptive parents. One writer has called this practice "child laundering."

This story first surfaced in 2009 in the L.A. Times.

But now for the first time this story is being reported by Chinese media in China. Suddenly, Chinese parents who had children taken from them know a little more about what might have happened to them, and they're starting to speak out in blogs and online message sites in China. This has prompted China to immediately open, or perhaps re-open, an investigation.

Janet Nearing of Family and Children's Services in Nova Scotia says her agency has been told that the Canadian embassy in Beijing will be informed by China of any kidnapped children who may have ended up in Canada. Nearing added, "This is as much action as I've ever seen on this."

Cathy Wagner says she's in contact with many other Canadian families who have real concerns about the origins of their adopted children. Many worry that the paperwork they were given could be false -- there are too many suspiciously similar stories about the places where their children were abandoned and then found. Most of these families want to stay quiet about their misgivings for fear of losing their children. But Wagner wonders, "Do we allow other people to be victimized to protect our own privacy?"

In Canada, it's hard to determine who exactly is in charge of overseeing international adoptions. The federal government says adoption is the jurisdiction of the provinces. The trouble is, no province has the resources to investigate what's going on in the countries that are supplying babies.

The federal government also says a safeguard against child trafficking is the fact that both Canada and China are signatory to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children in Respect to International Adoption, an agency that encourages member countries to comply with international adoption standards in the best interests of the child.

Peter Spadoni of the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services says that concerns have been expressed to the ministry about whether adopted children haven't been abandoned at all, but snatched from loving parents in China. These complaints, he says, have been forwarded to the federal government.

It does happen that the provinces and territories, in conjunction with the federal government, suspend adoptions from certain countries. This occurred last year in the case of Nepal, because of fraudulent adoption documentation, child trafficking, and improper financial gain, based on reports issued by the Secretary of the Hague Convention and UNICEF, as well as Canadian immigration authorities.

"No one wants to touch China," says Wagner.

She is worried that there could be a price to pay for speaking out.

Eventually she'd like to take her daughter back to the country where she was born, but she wonders whether she'd get a visa from the government of China.

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