By Edward Cody and Jason Ukman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 20, 2006; A20
BEIJING, Dec. 20 -- China has decided to tighten rules for foreigners adopting Chinese children, seeking to rule out adoptions by unmarried, elderly or unhealthy people, a senior adoption official said Wednesday.
The shift, which was outlined to U.S. adoption agencies early this month, appeared likely to have a broad impact on the growing number of Americans who travel to China to adopt babies, particularly unmarried couples.
Nearly 8,000 Chinese babies were adopted by U.S. citizens in 2005, and the number of applications for adoption has risen sharply, according to the Joint Council on International Children's Services, an Alexandria-based children's rights group.
New parents from the United States and Europe doting over Chinese infants have become a fixture in large hotels in this country, particularly in the southern city of Guangzhou, as they await the paperwork for adoption and U.S. passports. One Guangzhou hotel has installed a playroom to cater to the newly adopted children and their parents.
Tom DiFilipo, the Joint Council's president and chief executive, said the restriction against prospective single parents is among the measures with the largest possible effect. "We wish they would revisit that one, but it's certainly within their prerogative," he said.
The new rules, which are expected to go into effect May 1, appeared designed to ensure that Chinese infants end up in healthy, traditional families when they are adopted by people from the United States, Europe and elsewhere, said Xing Kaimin, who leads the department that approves adoptions at the China Center of Adoption Affairs.
In addition, Xing said, the pool of children for adoption has not kept pace with the demand from overseas. "We also have to take into consideration as a first priority the Chinese families that want to adopt," he said.
Xing said the new rules could be modified later if conditions change. As they stand, he added, the regulations will give last priority to adoptions by U.S. and other foreign citizens who are older than 50 and bar adoptions by those who are obese, disfigured or on antidepressant medication.
Applicants who are divorced or had their marriage annulled must wait five years after remarriage, and first-time couples must have been married for two years before becoming eligible, the rules stipulate. Homosexuals are excluded from adoption. Both prospective parents must have body mass indexes under 40 -- in other words, they cannot be morbidly obese.
Timothy Sutfin, executive director of New Beginnings Family and Children's Services in Mineola, N.Y., said the Chinese are entitled to "impose what they feel are reasonable rules on the process." He said the U.S. agencies posted the new rules because they wanted to keep prospective clients informed.
"You don't want to invite families . . . that are going to be excluded at the end of the day," he added.
The Chinese government has been criticized in the past for lax regulation of adoption by foreigners. In some cases, orphanages have been discovered selling babies for adoption. More recently, the official Chinese adoption center has worked closely with foreign agencies to keep the process centered on children's best interests.
Most of the children adopted by U.S. couples are girls. Chinese couples, limited by the government's one-child policy, sometimes give up girls in the hope of having a boy with another pregnancy.
Other children are abandoned by unmarried mothers and taken in by orphanages, which in turn funnel the children toward adoption by U.S. and European couples who, usually through agencies, seek to take in a child.
Ukman reported from Washington.