Saturday, March 27, 2004

Singapore's couples and China's orphans 

Governments have always to be careful of unintended consequences of their policies. For example, Singapore's birth control policy in previous decades proved too successful and almost certainly contributed to the dearth of babies today.

It's worse when a policy actually backfires, like the Singapore government's policy to push wages up in the early 1980s. That instead helped push Singapore into a recession in 1985.

Which brings me to today's The Straits Times report on the new scheme that will be run by Fei Yue Community Services and Touch Community Services for the adoption of children from China.

In this scheme, prospective parents can only state their preference in terms of gender, age and whether they want a child from Guangdong or Chongqing province. The China Centre of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) will then match them with children from state-run orphanages. The prospective parents can only reject the match on medical grounds.

According to The Straits Times report, many of the couples who attended a forum on the scheme were upset. They wanted some choice in the kind of child they would be adopting.

However, Fei Yue's deputy director, Mrs Seah Kheng Yeow, reportedly rejected the criticism by saying that adopting a child is not like buying a commodity. "Singaporeans want everything to be nice, good and cheap," she said. "But you're dealing with human beings here."

I thought her choice of words is ironical. Precisely because a child is a human being and not a commodity, parents would want to choose carefully. Parents must be able to have an affinity and to bond with their children. Random matches are not likely to achieve this end. And precisely because a child is not a commodity, you can't just sell him or her off if you're not happy with the match.

This adoption arrangement is analogous to a couple going on a blind date after which they must get married unless there are medical grounds not to.

Some of the prospective parents in the programme are already reconsidering whether they want to proceed with the adoption. That would be unfortunate for the orphans.

However, couples hoping for a child from China may not have much of a choice but to accept this arrangement. The new arrangement has been agreed on by the Singapore and Chinese governments, and all adoptions from China must go through it. How successful it will be remains to be seen.


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