Neha Sahay,  2011-05-26

Imagine your only child being forcibly taken away by officials and adopted by foreigners who believe it’s an orphan. This is the terrible tragedy that has been taking place in some remote mountainous villages of Hunan, Mao’s birthplace. The irony is that this is being done ostensibly to implement the one-child policy. The victims form the most vulnerable section of Chinese society — migrant labourers who leave their children behind in villages in the care of grandparents or other elderly relatives. The children targeted need not be illegal second children. Even the first born can be taken away. In such cases, documents are forged: the father ‘confesses’ that he’d taken in an abandoned child without following due procedure. The documents show him voluntarily giving the child up to the government officials. These documents are prepared with the help of the village committee and the police. The child is then given to an orphanage, which puts in a notice for 60 days in the local papers giving details of the child. But the orphanage is in the city, and the grandparents living in mountainous villages may never get to see the newspaper in time. So, more often than not, no one claims the child.

Some families, tipped off in time, have traced their children to the orphanage. But the fines slapped on them by special family planning courts for having violated the one-child norm, or broken adoption laws, have been so prohibitive — 6,000 to 10,000 yuan — that they’ve watched helplessly as their own flesh and blood has been given away. Or, they’ve come to know too late, much after the child has been adopted. Parents have tried to petition Beijing, but party officials have quickly conducted “inquiries’’ which conclude that the parents were in the wrong, and the family planning departments acted correctly.

Horror stories

For everyone but the parents, this is a perfect situation. Successful implementation of the one-child policy is a factor in deciding promotions of party officials. The penalties imposed on parents who violate this policy are a source of government income. Then, there’s the money gained from foreign adoptions. The adoption fee for foreigners is US $ 3,000. This amount is shared by local party officials, adoption agencies and the orphanage.

This terrible tragedy was brought to light through an in-depth investigative report in New Century, a new Beijing-based weekly, considered a trailblazer in Chinese journalism. Between 2001 and 2005, says the report, which names the officials involved, 16 children were taken away from just one county. On the eve of its publication, the author of the report wrote a letter to his colleagues, expressing the fear that his story may be “harmonised’’ — removed from circulation from the internet. He requested it to be shared widely.

This isn’t the first such investigation by this reporter. Last year, a story he co-authored for another outspoken publication, Southern Metropolis Daily, featured in a list of 10 best investigative stories of the year. The seven-part story documented the case of an author detained for writing a book on the mass migration of villagers forcibly relocated in the 1950s due to the building of a dam on the Yellow river.

Expectedly, his latest story has created a sensation. But the authorities’ assurance of an investigation may not be enough. Editorials have demanded that the government must help the victims file suits against concerned officials, and reunite them with their children wherever possible. There have even been calls for a review of the one-child policy. The photographs accompanying the story — gaunt faces of grandparents staring out of dark and grimy homes — haunt you. Will they haunt the family planning officials?