In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, an adopted Chinese girl captured Canada’s first gold medal, sparking an outcry in China’s domestic media over its now-scrapped one-child policy; while Jordan Windle made headlines as the first diver of Cambodian descent to compete in the Olympics, crediting his adoptive American father for his success.
However, the glitz and glamour of international adoption can also hide a sinister background. In Asia’s Underworld, a documentary series that uncovers the brutal criminal underworld in Asia, the episode Baby Snatchers (S2 E1) reveals how tens of thousands of children are believed to be stolen from their families and sold on China’s black market every year.
While kidnapping and child-trafficking is not uncommon in various parts of the world, China’s one-child policy, deep-seated cultural preference for sons, and excessive red tape made it a cesspool for the baby smuggling industry to flourish.
Faced with a surplus of unwanted baby girls, China opened the doors to international adoptions in 1992, with Americans paying up to $30,000 USD in administrative fees to bring home a Chinese baby. The film reveals that an estimated 20,000 children are kidnapped for international adoption, with the country’s strict family planning laws inadvertently creating opportunity for kidnappers.
Duan Zilin, a convicted child trafficker, shares how her mother was asked to bring in any abandoned children she found and she was rewarded with money. She and her family began “buying” babies from a supplier who said they had been abandoned and selling them to orphanages, who would then hand the babies over to American adopters with a large bill to cover the babies “living expenses”.
However, a tearful Duan revealed that she didn’t understand why she had to be the one sent to prison, stating “I thought that I was helping the country, why did we receive the punishment instead? I think is not right, you understand?”
Duan Zilin may have been doing what she thought was the right thing, but the film reveals an even more corrupt side to the lucrative baby trafficking industry, where an obstetrician allegedly convinced several families to give up their babies, stating that they had serious health conditions and stopping parents from seeing them.
The documentary focuses on revealing the crime network involved in kidnapping babies for lucrative adoption processes, but underlying that is a complex ethical dilemma. How much did the one-child policy affect several generations of families and children? How were the lives of countless babies improved by being adopted? How many American children, now adults, have biological families still yearning for their return? Should adoptive Chinese parents, desperate for a son, be punished for raising a child they obtained on the black market?