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A retrospective of adoptions from China shows that the peak year was 2005, when China sent 14,496 children to 17 countries.

After the peak, adoptions from China fell each year, to one-third of peak level in 2009. In a view of the future, an expert predicted that the number of children sent by China will decline further.

The adoption process in China encountered some partial interruptions in 2003 (SARS) and 2004 (measles) but began running normally under new and restrictive rules begun in 2007.

A processing delay appeared in 2006: as the number of applications increased, the China Center of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) was taking longer, up to 13 months, to match prospective adoptive parents with children. In 2007 foreign applications continued to exceed the number of children available and the wait rose toward 16 months.

CCAA acted to reduce the demand by barring some people from adopting. It brought in restrictive new rules in May 2007 narrowing the field of eligible adopters by shutting out single people and those morbidly obese or over 50 (unless adopting a special needs child).

In 2007 China was again the most popular by far with Canadian adopters. 658 children came from China to Canada, an increase of 8%. Still, adoptions from China to Canada haven't returned to the peak level of around 1,000 children a year earlier in the decade.

Here are some highlights from the history of adoption in China.

China published new regulations for international adoptions on Nov. 13, 1993. On June 24, 1996 the China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA) in Beijing was named China's Central Authority for international adoptions. On Nov. 4, 1998 amendments to the adoption law were approved.

On Dec. 1, 2001 CCAA started a quota system, to slow the rising number of incoming applications. It gave each adoption agency an annual quota of applications -- they could submit not more than their average annual number of adoptions in the previous three years. Of this quota, not over 5% of files could come from single applicants, making it harder for singles to adopt from China.

Starting in 2002 families had to wait longer to be matched with a child in China, with referrals taking about one year. The slowdown came as a result of the growing popularity of China's adoption program.

In 2002 Alberta Children's Services had a waiting list of single parents until 2006. Janice Williamson in Alberta explained that the 5% limit on single parent applications applied only to adopting young, healthy children. Not included in the quota were single parent adoptions of special needs children (includes minor special needs such as missing digits). Older children (3 or 4 and up) are considered special needs.

On Nov. 29, 2002 the China Center of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) lifted its quota on adoption applications, because it had achieved the goals of controlling "excessive growth" in the number of applications, reducing the backlog awaiting processing and shortening the time for assigning a child.

The quota for singles stayed in place: applications from single applicants could not exceed 8% of the total applications submitted by each adoption agency in 2003 (up from 5%).

The requirements for singles are:
-- Not over 50 years old.
-- Have received a higher education or a vocational one, with "a stable job, a comparatively good financial income, and a capability of educating adopted children."
-- Not be homosexual. One member of a gay couple may not apply as a single applicant. Adoption agencies should check carefully and be sure not to submit applications from homosexuals.

In its advisory of Nov. 29, 2002 CCAA issued rulings affecting special needs adoptions and single adoptive parents. Special needs cases get priority. CCAA has taken two steps to speed up the adoption of children in its category of "handicapped children and children over six years of age", or special needs children. It will expedite the processing of applications from adoption agencies approved by CCAA for special needs cases. If applicants raise the adoption applications of handicapped children and children over six on their own, CCAA will speed up the processing through its procedure of expedited cases. CCAA will lower the fees for adopting special needs children. The total fee of $365 includes $265 for service and $100 for translation. The adoption agency sends the $365 to CCAA with each application.

In an effort to curb the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), on May 15, 2003 China introduced a six-week suspension of file processing. It stopped issuing adoption referrals (child matching letters) and notifications authorizing travel to China to adopt a child (while still accepting adoption applications).

In its May 15 notice CCAA said:
-- Sending of child proposal letters is temporarily suspended.
-- Also suspended are notices authorizing travel. Those who already have their notice to travel should try to postpone travel, unless travel arrangements are unchangeable. Notices sent before May 15 will be valid for six months instead of three.
-- Processing of files internally will go on as usual.
-- The web site will announce the return to normal procedures.

Until the May 15 suspension, Canadian families kept to their travel plans to China, despite warnings from Health Canada and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta about SARS.

On June 24, 2003 the World Health Organization (WHO) lifted its advice that people postpone all but essential travel to Beijing. Following the WHO's lead, on June 24, 2003 the China Center of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) in Beijing re-opened China to families wishing to come to adopt their child. CCAA resumed issuing the "Notice of Coming to China for Adoption" for families who had been matched with children. This letter authorizing travel to China will be valid for three months, as before. Letters issued before May 15 will be valid for six months. CCAA also resumed sending out the "Letter of Seeking Confirmation from Adopters", which notifies families of children matched to them for adoption.

After the SARS risk ended, China lifted all restrictions and the process returned to normal. The suspension from May 15 to June 24 was especially hard on prospective parents who had received photos of the children they were on the verge of adopting. By the time parents receive permission to go to China to bring their child home, they have spent about $20,000 and waited from one to two years.

Starting Jan. 20, 2004, the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services automatically issued the U.S. Certificate of Citizenship to new arrivals, if they had an IR-3 visa. BCIS mails the certificate within 45 days of arrival; there is no fee.

U.S. health officials recommended April 16, 2004 that prospective parents temporarily avoid adopting children from one Chinese orphanage, where six children had measles, which is highly contagious. Adoptions from the Zhuzhou Child Welfare Institute in Hunan Province were temporarily suspended owing to the measles outbreak.

(May 26, 2004) Families returning from China are advised they should not use the adoptive names of their children on forms applying to the child's entry into Canada. To prevent confusion about the child's identity upon entry, keep the child's name as it appears on the Chinese passport and travel documents.

In November 2005 Chinese authorities temporarily halted adoptions in some counties of Hunan province where there was alleged baby-selling. Foreign adoptions stayed open in the rest of Hunan, and in the rest of China. Reuters reported Nov. 24 that police in Hunan arrested 27 people, including the head of the Hengyang county orphanage. It was alleged that the orphanage had been buying babies from traffickers, then registering them to receive government support and selling them to families desperate to have children. The baby-trafficking scandal in Hunan stood in contrast to the clean operation of the adoption system in the rest of China.

On Jan. 1, 2006 China ratified the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.

In February 2006 the Qidong County People's Court (Hunan province) convicted Liang Guihong of Guangdong province, orphanage director Chen Ming and eight others of buying babies in Guangdong and selling them to six orphanages in Hunan. They received prison sentences of from one to 15 years. [Xinhua News Agency]

In a March 15, 2006 report Associated Press said "a U.S. State Department official" asked the China Center for Adoption Affairs to investigate the question of abducted babies possibly being adopted by foreign couples. "The CCAA informed us that it had concluded its investigation into all of the children from Hengyang adopted by Americans and found that all of these children were legitimately orphaned or abandoned and that there are no biological parents searching for them," said the official. The AP report said China's adoption system is generally respected and regarded as free of corruption. Foreign parents are matched with children by CCAA and are barred from dealing directly with orphanages.

On July 6, 2006 Joint Council for International Children's Services reported that CCAA has, over the past several months, been taking significantly longer to match prospective adoptive parents and children than a year ago. In spring 2006 the average time had increased to 10-11 months, up from six months in spring 2005. CCAA says that waiting times increase when the number of adoptive families exceeds the number of children available to be adopted. According to Adoptive Families magazine (Sept./Oct. 2006), the U.S. Embassy in Beijing attributes the delay to two reasons: "first, CCAA has upped its scrutiny of the ways children enter into state care, and second, the increasing number of foreign adoptive parents, compared to the relatively stable number of eligible children, has allowed CCAA to be more selective."

With further evidence that matching is taking longer, Bob Crawford of the newsletter China Connection published a graph showing that the time from CCAA log-in to referral, for U.S. adopters, has doubled in two years -- from 200 days (start of 2005) to 400 days (end of 2006), i.e. 13 months. See "2005 History and the Increase of Waiting Time in 2006".

The New York Times reported on Dec. 20, 2006 that CCAA has a solution to the longer waiting times. It plans to restrict who is allowed to adopt a Chinese orphan. Subject to confirmation from CCAA, as of May 1, 2007 no-one may apply to adopt who is: single, married less than two years, over 50, morbidly obese or taking drugs for psychiatric conditions, including depression and anxiety. The new rules are described in detail in the news item "China to rule out singles, over-50s, obese".

China Daily confirmed in its Dec. 25, 2006 article "New criteria spelt out for adoption by foreigners" that the new guidelines would go into effect on May 1. An applicant couple (no singles) must be aged 30 to 50, and married at least two years; those who were divorced should have been currently married at least five years. A key criterion is that applicants should have a Body Mass Index (a measure of body fat based on height and weight) of under 40. A BMI of 40 means extreme obesity: someone 1.7 metres tall would weigh over 115 kg. Obese people, said CCAA, are more likely to suffer from diseases and might have a shorter life. (South Korea also has weight restrictions.)

Xing Kaimin, CCAA director, said, "The priority criteria are meant to protect children's interests and shorten the waiting time for more qualified applicants." Xing said CCAA has received a soaring number of adoption applications. Prospective adopters now have to wait 14-15 months from the time of applying until getting a match. "We want to pick the most qualified so that our children can grow up in even better conditions," Xing said, noting there are fewer orphaned children because of social progress. Translation: China wants its children to have the best chance at getting healthy parents who will live long enough to raise them to adulthood in optimum conditions. Over 50,000 Chinese children have been adopted by foreigners in the past ten years, 80% going to U.S families.


On Jan. 10, 2007 the Toronto Star, in "Golden age of China adoptions fading", offered the view from adoptive parents and adoption agencies. "The more stringent requirements ... reduce the options for Canadian singles who want to become parents through adoption. Those in the field say the changes also signal a shift in adoption trends." Cindy Boates, president of the Toronto chapter of Families with Children from China, said that "overall, the golden age of adoption from China is coming to an end." The single mother of two girls from China said she wasn't surprised by the changes. About a year ago, when applications started to outstrip babies, China tried to quell demand by slowing the process, but with little effect. Those in the adoption community cited China's recent promotion of domestic adoption there, and loosening of rules limiting families to one child.

According to Martha Maslen, executive director of Ottawa agency The Children's Bridge, the latest guidelines mean it doesn't make sense for agencies to send applications from singles and others not considered a priority by Chinese authorities. Currently the average wait time between registering a file in China and being matched with a child is cited as anywhere from one year to 16 months. That doesn't include the approval process that first has to happen in Canada, which can take up to three months. She said the rules making it harder to adopt in China may mark the start of a shift to other countries. Haiti is second to China for Canadian adoptive parents, and the United States is third. Those are still among the options for singles looking to adopt, along with Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam.

On the west coast (Times-Colonist, Jan. 14, 2007), the North Vancouver agency that handles most Chinese adoptions to B.C. said 30%-40% of its clients will not be eligible under the new rules. "A lot of people who come to us are in that bracket of second marriages or in the 50-to-60 age range," said Doug Chalke, executive director of Sunrise Family Services Society, which handled 65 of about 100 Chinese adoptions by B.C. families in 2006.

On May 1, 2007 the new eligibility rules described in "China to rule out singles, over-50s, obese" went into effect. The CCAA regulations (rules one through nine) are spelled out in "May 1: nine new adoption rules start in China".

Statistics on international adoptions to the U.S. from the U.S. State Department showed that in fiscal year 2006, the number of children adopted from China declined significantly for the first time, from 7,906 in FY2005 to 6,493 in FY2006. Nevertheless China was the most popular country for intercountry adoption, ahead of Guatemala, Russia, South Korea, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Liberia, Colombia and India.


The peak year of adoptions from China was 2005, when China sent 14,496 children to 17 countries. After the peak, adoptions from China fell each year, reaching one-third of peak level by 2009. In a view of the future, an expert predicted that the number of children sent by China will decline further.


For resources on China adoption, see Adoption Resource Central, Country-specific Resources - China.

For more on adoption in China, see We Adopted From China ... You Can, Too!. See also Canadian Guide to Intercountry Adoption

Find an adoption agency for China: Agency Chooser,

Details of agency programs are at Adoption Agencies,

You may reprint this item with the credit:
"From Family Helper,"

Country News is written by Robin Hilborn,
author of Family Helper,



Fertility Adoption Adoption Resource Central Post-adoption Family Tree
Contact: Robin Hilborn,
Box 1353, Southampton, Ont. N0H 2L0 Canada
©2011 Robin R. Hilborn
Updated Mar. 17, 2011

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