“Illegal” Babies Abducted by Chinese Population Control Officials

As Beijing continues to vigorously pursue its infamous one-child policy, PRI has gathered evidence showing that Chinese villagers who cannot afford to pay these fines have their “illegal” children abducted and sold by Chinese population control officials.

It is well known that those who violate the one-child policy have sometimes been subjected to coerced abortions or, if they have already given birth, have been forced to pay punitive fines and have been sterilized. For example, the birth control regulations posted in one town warned that those who violate the one-child policy shall be contracepted or sterilized:

Under the direction of the birth control bureaucracy and the technical personnel (assigned thereto), those married women of childbearing age who have already had one child shall be given an IUD; those couples that have already had a second or higher order child shall be sterilized. [Italics added]

This sterilization directive was confirmed in conversation with villagers. One woman, a Chinese minority, told us that the consequence of having a third child would be that the government “would take measures to sterilize you.”

The fines now imposed on violators of the one-child policy are, by any standards, enormous. In one Chinese county, declared by the UNFPA to be a “Model Birth Control County,” we photographed a billboard of birth control regulations that warned:

Those who illegally reproduce … will be assessed, when their illegal behavior is discovered, a “social compensation fee” based on a unit calculated from a year’s salary for urban dwellers and based on a year’s income after expenses for rural dwellers.

Those who illegally give birth to one child will be assessed a fine 3 to 5 times their annual income; those who illegally give birth to a second child will be assessed a fine from 5 to 7 times their annual income; those who illegally give birth to a third child will be assessed a fine from 7 to 9 times their annual income; those who give birth to 4 or more illegal children will be assessed a fine extrapolated from the above schedule of multiples. For those who illegally take in a child, have an extramarital birth, or have an out of wedlock birth, both parties involved will be assessed a “social compensation fee” according to the above schedule of (income) multiples.

That these fines were actually imposed was clear from our discussions with ordinary Chinese. We were told again and again that violators are fined “tens of thousands of renminbi,” or “20,000 or 30,000 renminbi.” These are enormous sums of money by Chinese standards. One woman reported that she and her husband had been forced to take out a 10-year loan to pay the 25,000 renminbi fine that had been assessed for each of her two illegal daughters. To pay off this “child mortgage,” her husband had been forced to go to work in the city.

When we asked what would happen if a couple couldn’t afford to pay the fine, we were told that offenders would be visited by population control officials who would “seal off” their homes, and possibly even destroy them, as punishment for non-payment.

But these punishments pale in comparison with reports of child abduction. In Lipu county, another UNFPA Model Birth Control County, located in northern Guangxi province, we were told by a village official that “At the present time, if you don’t pay the fine, they come and abduct the baby you just gave birth to and give it to someone else.”

This practice of child abduction has recently been confirmed by the Chinese government. According to a report in the Caixin Century magazine, authorities in the southern Chinese province of Hunan have begun investigating a report that population control officials had seized at least 16 babies born in violation of strict family planning rules, sent them to state-run orphanages, and then sold them abroad for adoption. “Before 1997, they usually punished us by tearing down our houses for breaching the one-child policy, but after 2000 they began to confiscate our children,” the magazine quoted villager Yuan Chaoren as saying.

The children, reportedly from Longhui county near Hunan province’s Shaoyang city, had been abducted by who accused their parents of breaching the one-child policy or illegally adopting children. The local family planning office then sent the children to local orphanages, which listed them as being available for adoption, the report said, adding the office could get 1,000 renminbi or more for each child. The orphanages in turn receive $3,000 to $5,000 for each child adopted overseas, money that is paid by the adoptive parents. The magazine reported that at least one migrant worker said she had found her daughter had been adopted abroad and was now living in the United States.

It is worth noting that these two reports come from the same general area of China and occurred in neighboring provinces. Lipu county, where we heard about the practice of abducting and selling “illegal” children, is located in northern Guangxi province not far from the Hunan border, while Shaoyang is located near the southern border of Hunan not far from the Guangxi border.

Local officials deny any involvement in child trafficking. But it is well known that the so-called “job responsibility system” requires them to rigorously enforce the one-child policy, and that their success (or failure) in this area will determine future promotions (or demotions). Abducting and selling an “illegal” baby or child would not only enable an official to eliminate a potential black mark on his record, it would allow him to make a profit at the same time. In this way the one-child policy, through its system of perverse and inhumane rewards and punishment, encourages officials to violate the fundamental right of parents to decide for themselves the number and spacing of their children.

Child trafficking has occurred in other countries that offer children for adoption, most notably in Cambodia, Nepal and Vietnam, where the abuses are so rampant that the U.S. has put a moratorium on adoptions. It may be time to consider a similar moratorium on adoptions from China.

Steve Mosher is the president of Population Research Institute.