Beijing's babies

CHINA IS BECOMING positively picky about which foreigners can adopt its babies, and its new restrictions are causing angst and anger among some who yearn to adopt there.

Its newest policies cut to the cultural nitty-gritty. Soon to be barred from adopting Chinese children are people who are morbidly obese, unmarried, on anti-depressants, have facial deformities or are over age 50. Those up to age 55 can adopt children with special needs.

Also, couples must have high school diplomas and cannot have more than two divorces between them.

To American sensibilities, the new restrictions have a decidedly undemocratic ring. Thousands of single mothers here have provided loving homes for babies who otherwise would be languishing in China's orphanages. Also, given that the U.S. divorce rate is about six times that of China's, there is little guarantee that children will end up in two-parent homes.

But however much the new restrictions clash with American mores and culture, China cannot be faulted for trying to act in the best interests of the children it sends into the world. In tightening its regulations, China joins a host of other countries doing exactly the same thing. South Korea, for example, has long barred morbidly obese parents from adopting.

Vigilance in what is now a worldwide baby migration -- as affluent nations turn to poorer ones in the quest for children -- is imperative. In 2001, the United States shut down all adoptions from Cambodia after reports that poor mothers were being tricked into giving up their babies.

U.S. adoption agencies say the new rules, yet to be formally announced by China, are the result of skyrocketing applications from around the world. China is winnowing that number by choosing what it considers the parental cream of the crop.

In the early 1990s, China was an unregulated adoption free-for-all. China's one-child policy resulted in millions of orphan girls, and prospective parents could go there, work out private arrangements with missionaries and orphanages and return home with a baby. China soon began to regulate the process and then created a central agency in 1996 to handle international adoptions, which have been skyrocketing.

The fact that the due diligence in these transactions is now being done as much by the Chinese as by prospective foreign adoptive parents is yet another sign of that nation's growing affluence -- even if Beijing is going about it in a somewhat heavy-handed, culturally awkward manner.

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