Monday, May 19, 2008

Wall Street Journal Reports After Quake, Many Inquiries From Chinese About Adoptions

After Quake, Many Inquiries From Chinese About Adoptions
Geoffrey A. Fowler and Juliet Ye report on the fate of survivors.

Already, the survivors of China’s earthquake are putting together their own makeshift families. In the Jiuzhou Stadium in Chengdu, where thousands are being housed, volunteer Melody Zhang says she met a “nice-looking” one made up of a mother, a father, a grandfather and two children—from four different families.

“They just naturally took care of each other,” says Ms. Zhang, the associate director of adoption agency Children’s Hope International, who has been delivering supplies in Sichuan province.

As the focus of the earthquake relief effort in Sichuan turns to aiding survivors, China is witnessing an outpouring of requests by other Chinese to adopt children orphaned by the disaster. The provincial Sichuan Internal Affairs Bureau has set up an adoption hotline and says it has received hundreds of enquires from elsewhere in the country. So many people were trying to call it on Friday that the hotline almost always gave a busy signal.

The government tried to calm some of the eagerness on Friday by announcing on state-run news media that it would start making permanent arrangements for orphaned children only once reconstruction begins. “Everything will be done strictly in accordance with the adoption law,” said a spokeswoman for the State Internal Affairs Bureau who identified herself as Ms. Gan.

The government hasn’t yet offered any estimates of the number of children orphaned by the quake. Ms. Gan said that “quite a few” children had been found at least temporarily without their parents, but needed time to find them. Inside the Jiuzhou Stadium, people post information about missing family members on a bulletin board.

The sad reality is that there may not be very many orphans, officials say, because many of the estimated 50,000 dead are children. The earthquake came during school hours on a Monday—and demolished many schools.

Orphans who have survived the earthquake need not only physical but also mental support, Ms. Zhang says. One four-year-old girl she met, Shen Xiaoyu, had managed to climb out of the rubble of her day care center on her own, but now refused to speak to anybody at the Mianyang Central Hospital. Ms. Zhang says her colleagues are working on a program to train volunteers in counseling children for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Authorities aren’t showing any signs that they will make it easier for foreign families to adopt the children, after implementing tough new adoption rules last year. China’s amended rules bar foreigners who are single, obese, over 50 years old or currently taking psychiatric medications. In the last decade, well over 50,000 Chinese children have been adopted by foreign families, many of them American, in a process that can take years.

China’s rationale for the policy change was that the government could not meet the demand of prospective foreign families. Birthrates are falling in China, and economic growth has led to fewer parents abandoning their children due to poverty.

Now, the Sichuan earthquake has brought an outpouring of aid and sympathy from inside China.

One of those potential adoptive parents is Li Chuanxi, a 45-year-old survivor of China’s last giant earthquake, in his hometown of Tangshan, in 1976. “I could not move my eyes off the TV every day, waiting for the latest information on the Wenchuan earthquake,” he says. “I can’t help crying whenever I see the kids’ miserable faces.”

He says he discussed the matter with his wife, and they want to adopt two or three kids, if they are allowed. “My apartment is big enough for newcomers to the family,” he says. They have a 19-year-old daughter.

The State Internal Affairs Bureau says so far there is more demand for orphans to adopt than there is need. “We would have no difficulty at all sending every child here to families in China,” Ms. Gan said.

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