Controversies about Adoptions of Chinese Babies By Non-Chinese American Families

In the United States, many Chinese children are adopted by non-Chinese Americans. According to the New York State Department, 64,043 Chinese children were adopted in the United States between 1999 and 2010, far more than from any other country (Leland). This is due in part to child abduction and trafficking which has become a huge issue for other international adoption programs.

In China, the One Child Policy was enacted to help reduce the population. This policy only allowed couples to have one child and in their culture, and having a male was preferred so they could inherit the family name, property, and were responsible for caring for their parents when they are older. Since couples were restricted to one child, having a daughter was undesirable, causing the number of female Chinese children to be abandoned or put into orphanages to rise. The policy was later modified to where exceptions were made to minority people or for those whose firstborn was disabled; those measures included allowing rural families in some areas to have two or even three children and permitting parents whose firstborn was a girl or who both were only children to have a second child and if they ended up having two daughters, the firstborn was kept while the other was abandoned.

Due to this policy, children who were abandoned were often taken and placed in or sold to international adoption programs. Some families however dealt with their babies being taken away by coercion, fraud or kidnapping. Sometimes they were even taken by government officials who covered their tracks by pretending that the babies had been abandoned. Babies were being seized from their parents and sold them into a lucrative black market in children (Leland, LA Times). Chinese children are still being taken from their parents and sold for trafficking and international adoption programs, which is why there are so many Chinese children, majority little girls, being adopted in the United States.

Note from Caroline: This is an important twist on what most American adoptive parents understood about adopting from China in the 1990s and early 2000s (which, as you see if you look through the LA Times or New York Times articles, was that adoptions placed children who could not be raised by Chinese parents who were poor or had given up their kids). 



Andrew, Anita M. “China’s Abandoned Children and Transnational Adoption: Issues and Problems for U.S.-China Relations, Adoption Agencies, and Adoptive Parents.” Journal of Women’s History, Johns Hopkins University Press, 21 Mar. 2007,

Custer, Charlie. “Kidnapped and Sold: Inside the Dark World of Child Trafficking in China.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 14 Apr. 2018,

Leland, John. “For Adoptive Parents, Questions Without Answers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Sept. 2011,

Pletcher, Kenneth. “One-Child Policy.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 13 Feb. 2020,

“Stolen Chinese Babies Supply Adoption Demand.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 20 Sept. 2009,