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China's New Unwanted

For disabled orphans in China, adoptions are few and far between.

The enduring image of a Chinese orphanage is of a place filled with unwanted but healthy baby girls.

True perhaps a few decades ago, but times have changed: girls are more accepted and domestic adoptions are on the rise.

Today, China’s new unwanted are disabled children; the number of babies with birth defects has jumped 70 percent since the mid-1990s.

This was an intriguing premise for a Get Real episode that we wanted to film over the Lunar New Year. At a time of family reunion, what was it like for these orphans?

I knew the stories of the profiles would be sad. But I wanted to offer a more nuanced and complex emotional portrait.

As one of them told me, “Being an orphan is my reality. I never thought I was different. Growing up I assumed that children with parents were the weird ones.”

Among the orphans I met, Keyuan’s story was one of the most heartbreaking.

He’s a 7-year-old boy at Alenah’s Home, a medical foster home in Beijing.

Born without ears, he hangs on the hope that he will one day find a family, just like his friends who have left one by one for America.

Keyuan (R) with a friend

Keyuan doesn’t yet realise that boys like him are at the back of the adoption queue.

The plain truth is that adoptive families vastly prefer younger children, especially girls.

Older boys are deemed trickier to manage. It hardly matters to them that Keyuan can hear okay with a hearing aid, or is quickly picking up speech. As the months pass, his chances of being adopted are falling fast.

Keyuan, blissfully ignorant of this harsh reality, is undeterred. He says cheerfully, “I must be patient! If we rush for it, we’ll all end up fighting!”

Be patient – it’s a line repeated by the staff at Alenah’s Home whenever the inevitable question comes up: “When’s my mummy going to come?”

The adults put on an optimistic front, but in China adoptions are few and far in between. Alenah’s Home is affiliated to the US-based Children’s Hope International, which promotes adoption of the children.

But its efforts are still not quite enough. In 2016, six of its children were adopted. 15 new ones arrived.


Hoe Yeen Nie

Producer, Get Real

Click to watch the full episode of China's New Unwanted.