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The Changing Face of China’s Orphans

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With the recent news that Russia has closed its international adoption program, many articles on adoption from other countries have made headlines as well. Several I have read talked about the huge decline in adoptions from China, but most blamed it on more stringent requirements for adoptive families. Few articles touched on the other main reason that adoptions have slowed, which is the changing population of orphaned children.

Over the next few days, I would like to discuss some of the reasons for this shift. Before I continue, I am giving a full disclaimer that I am not a researcher. I do not have a PhD in population studies. I am just a person who has worked with orphaned children for a decade now and who asks a lot of questions about topics I am passionate about. Anything I write is my opinion alone.

So let’s start ten years ago when I first began my work in China. The majority of orphanages looked very similar in their populations, with row after row of baby cribs filled with “healthy” baby girls. This is the image so many people still mistakenly have in their minds today. We all learned that the reason these countless baby girls were there was because families in China could only have one child, and the cultural preference was for a son. Female infant abandonment was known and fairly common, and so almost every baby I would be handed was a girl. This was reflected in international adoptions as well, as 95% of the children finding homes were “non special needs” (NSN) girls.

What a difference a decade makes. Now the majority of international adoptions from China are children with special needs. A critical statistic to understand is that 90-98% of children now being abandoned in China are children with medical needs, depending on which orphanage director you speak with. For gender, it is now an equal number of boys and girls entering institutions. The population of children living in China’s orphanages has changed completely. Chinese institutions today are filled with children with heart defects, cleft lip and palate, cerebral palsy, and every other sort of medical need possible. The “healthy” baby girls are few and far between.

So where have they gone? I receive phone calls from waiting parents and even some adoption agencies who still believe that there is some sort of conspiracy going on in China where they are hiding all the NSN girls to keep the wait to adopt artificially long. People will tell me, “I know they have to be there.”

The reality is that they are not. Over the next few days, we’ll discuss some of the reasons why things have changed, in addition to why I feel international adoption is still so vitally important.

~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer

Tomorrow: Changing Attitudes Towards Girls in China

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