Orphanage Director Stands Trial in China

In southern China, the director of an orphanage is among 10 defendants standing trial for allegedly buying kidnapped children and putting them up for adoption as orphans. But the defendants deny the charges and say the children, all girls, were abandoned days after their birth.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. In Southern China, the director of an orphanage is among 10 people on trial for allegedly buying kidnapped children, then putting them up for adoption as orphans. The case could be a disturbing one for the thousands of Americans who adopt babies from Chinese orphanages. But the defendants in the case say this is not the international scandal the Chinese government and adoptive parents fear. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

35-year old taxi driver Duan Yueneng is accused of being an accomplice in the baby trade. She is being tried here at the Guidong County Courthouse in Southern Hunan Province. As prosecutors question the defendants, Duen's father smokes a cigarette and paces nervously outside the courtroom doors. He admits his daughter was paid for delivering babies to the orphanage, but denies they were abducted. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Duan Yueneng is male.]

Mr. DUAN: (Chinese Spoken)

KUHN: These were all abandoned infants, he says. The defendants didn't trick them away in order to sell them. They say my daughter received the equivalent of forty or fifty dollars for each infant, and accused of her of kidnapping children. We feel it's a great injustice. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Quote should read, "They say my SON received the equivalent of forty or fifty dollars for each infant, and accused of HIM of kidnapping children. We feel it's a great injustice."]

Local police, prosecutors and government officials all declined to comment on the case. Local journalists said they were ordered not to report on it. But they did report it last November when the police arrested some 20 people, including the heads of several local orphanages. All were released except for nine poor farmers and laborers and the director of the Guidong County Orphanage. The director's lawyer, Yuen Bishun (ph) is a short, round-faced man in a pinstriped suit and oversized eyeglasses. He argues that his client is not only innocent, but was performing a charitable service.

Mr. YUEN BISHUN (Attorney): (Chinese Spoken)

KUHN: If the orphanage had not taken in these abandoned babies, they might have been bitten to death by rats or dogs in the wild. They might have died of hunger, cold or disease. The orphanage saved their lives.

He says that police interrogation of the defendants show that the 18 allegedly kidnapped babies were all girls abandoned days after birth. All were from the same poor area of neighboring Guangdong Province, where like other agricultural areas, male offspring are favored over girls. Nobody reported them missing. Nobody claimed them after their pictures were printed in the newspaper. He says the 18 are still at the orphanage and have not yet been adopted.

But the economy of adoption in China remains a legal and ethical gray area. Orphanages in China usually pay people who bring them unwanted children, and foreigners typically pay $30,000 to adopt one. Lawyer Yuen says that the local government may have been trying to squeeze the orphanages for money. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Foreigners typically pay orphanages $3,000 for an adoption.]

Mr. BISHUN: (Through translator) Some people may have had their eyes on this money. If they accused the orphanage directors of trafficking in babies, then they can confiscate that money. If not for the money, the orphanages would just be seen as practicing charity.

KUHN: According to the U.S. State Department, Americans adopted nearly 8,000 Chinese babies last year, 95% of them girls. The case here has sent a chill through the community of adoptive parents.

Mr. BRIAN STYE (ph): The moral morass that would come out of that situation is unthinkable as an adoptive parent.

KUHN: Brian Stye is a Utah-based activist who runs an adoption related website, researchchina.org.

Mr. STYE: Here you have a child that you've adopted, that you love with all your heart, and the thought that there are two parents in China missing their child that you have adopted and wanting them back creates a no-win situation.

KUHN: Occasional reports of abuse at orphanages and trafficking in children have previously stung the Chinese government. The defendants say that so far the media have gotten this case all wrong. They're concerned that Beijing now fears another public relations fiasco and will pressure the court to rule against them regardless of the evidence. They expect the court to hand down its verdict as soon as this week.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Hunan Province.

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Correction Feb. 27, 2006

The audio that originally aired incorrectly identified taxi driver Duan Yueneng as a female. The report also misstated the amount foreigners pay orphanages to adopt Chinese children. They typically pay $3,000 for an adoption.

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