By Zuo Maohong
Published: 2008-06-03

"Either a boy or a girl is fine. A healthy, chubby one," said 30-year old businesswoman Hou Li from Shandong province, China.

Hou was not expecting – she has already exercised her rights under the country's one-child policy by having a boy three years ago – but declaring her conviction to adopt a child orphaned by the earthquake in Sichuan.

"What about those disabled ones?" asked Shanghai-based Ye, a 26-year-old financial institution employee, who'd been pondering the swelling interest in quake orphans and if the less than "healthy and cute" ones would be left behind.  

Since the earthquake took place on May 12, images of young victims who graced the screens and pages of electronic and print media have invoked a sea of sympathy and empathy, sparking off heated public discussion, especially among netizens, and demand for adoption.

Interest in Adoption
Fierce as the debate might be, applications for such adoption wouldn't be dealt with by the Chinese government until "life and production in the disaster areas returned to normal", according to a notice issued by the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) on May 20.

Moreover, official statistics of children orphaned from the quake had yet to be released as the number of casualties continued to climb and the status of parentless children yet to be ascertained. As of 12:00 June 2, the death toll stood at 69,019 while 18,627 remained missing.

In the special section on children orphaned from the quake at Sina, the most popular online portal in China, netizens who wished to adopt quake orphans were asked to fill an online application form, which mainly included their personal information and adoption orientation.

As of 14:40, May 28, a total of 76,804 people within China and 350 from abroad had applied. According to Sina, the applications would be submitted to civil affairs watchdogs.   

For fear of illegal adoption, the Sichuan Provincial Civil Affairs Bureau (SPCAC) clarified on May 21 that by law, the right to process adoption registration was reserved to civil affairs departments above county level, and so far the Bureau hadn't entrusted any social organization or individual for such registration.

By the Adoption Law in China, adopters have to meet the basic requirements of being childless, capable of raising and educating a child, medically fit for adoption, and above 30 years old. Special policies on orphans caused by the quake were still under study by the SPCAC, according to Sichuan's deputy governor Li Chengyun at the press conference on May 19.

In the hope of policy makers relaxing restrictions under the current situation, Hou insisted that she was all prepared and capable of raising her own child and one from faraway Sichuan simultaneously.

For her part, Hou already had it mapped out. "I hope the child could be three years old, the same age as my own son, so that they can keep each other good company. I know how to raise this child," she said.

Not everybody believed they could take the responsibility. "I'd rather help by donation. Raising a child is not that simple, especially one who's been through such a horrible experience," said Ye, adding it was more about healing a child's wounded heart than just providing a materially better-off environment.

Private Verses Welfare Homes
To experts dealing with children, adoption – especially of a quake victim – was a much more complicated issue than one's willingness to care for a stranger's child.

Given the special experience these orphans had suffered, special attention on both the adopter and the adopted child should be given before and after an adoptive relationship was legally established, said Su Yanjie, professor of psychology at Beijing University.

To ensure meeting the objectives of finding the best home and restoring family environment for the orphans, Su called for a more standardized pre-assessment of the adoptive family and follow-up psychological observation of the adopted.

The same concern was shared by Chen Jianmin, associate professor at the Law School of Tsinghua University. Under current practice, she said, post-evaluation of the adopted child had yet to be improved, especially when the adoptive parents had their own child after the adoption.

In fact, after childless parents adopted an orphan, whether they could eventually opt for having their own child under the Chinese one-child policy was another key point of public discussion.

Chen believed the options of finding orphans a private or welfare home depended on age groups. She said for young babies who still couldn't remember things well, there would be no problem with being adopted.

For the older ones, however, she believed collective care and staying put in their respective hometowns would be better because they had already established a strong bond with their homeland, either culturally or geographically.

Chen further advised building welfare schools for the latter group of children, and a special one for those disabled only.

Back in 1978, when the last massive earthquake hit Tangshan, Hebei province, 4,204 children were officially reported as orphaned. These children, with the youngest only several months old and the oldest sixteen or seventeen, were sent to a special school named Yuhong.

Three such schools were built in Shijiazhuang, Xingtai and Tangshan, by the Chinese government. Except those who were claimed by relatives later, other lived and studied in Yuhong until they became adults.