China is planning to issue new, tighter restrictions on foreign adoptions of Chinese children, which would prohibit adoptions by parents who are unmarried, who are obese or who are older than 50, according to adoption agencies in the United States.
The new regulations, which have not yet been formally announced by the state-run China Center of Adoption Affairs, are to take effect on May 1, 2007, and seem certain to slow the rapid rise in applications by foreign parents to adopt Chinese babies.
"This is absolutely going to affect a percentage of our clientele," said Heather Terry, a spokeswoman for the Great Wall of China Adoption Agency in Austin, Texas. "This will probably affect quite a lot of people in 2007."
Terry said that foreign adoption agencies learned of the new regulations at a Dec. 8 meeting in Beijing with officials from the adoption-affairs center. Chinese officials told the foreign agencies that applications had begun to exceed the number of available babies, and that the new rules were partly intended to address that imbalance.
Terry added that China also wanted to slow foreign adoptions because "they are opening up domestic adoptions now."
The adoption-affairs center declined requests in recent weeks by The New York Times for an interview on adoption policy. An unnamed official cited by the Associated Press confirmed that the government is considering new guidelines, but declined to discuss any specifics.
Even so, adoption agencies in the United States are already telling prospective parents about the rule changes or posting the guidelines on their Web sites.
"C.C.A.A. has decided to both reduce the number of dossiers accepted by applying stricter standards to potential adoptive families and to increase the number of children available for adoption by improving the situation of children in China's orphanages," Jackie Harrah wrote in a letter posted on the Web site of Harrah's Adoption International Mission in Spring, Texas.
Adoption agencies were told that China intended to increase the supply of adoptable children by creating a new charity named Blue Skies, which would focus on improving health care for medically fragile infants or premature babies at orphanages. An initial goal of this charity would be to buy incubators for many of the country's orphanages, according to the Harrah's Adoption Web site.
Terry said that the most significant rule change is the new ban against single parents. Up to now, Terry said, China has allowed single parents to make up as many as 8 percent of all referrals; the new rules would eliminate that quota. The age restrictions also have been tightened; China now allows people up to 55 to be considered.
Some of the new rules focus on the fiscal, physical and psychological health of prospective parents. People who are taking medication for anxiety or depression can be disqualified under the new rules. Couples will be disqualified if either person has a body fat measurement exceeding 40 percent (30 percent is generally considered obese). And a prospective adoptive family's net worth must now exceed $80,000.
China also will disqualify families that already have more than four children in the home. Terry said that her agency has already started applying the new guidelines. "We're no longer accepting singles," she said. "That is the most significant change."
Single parents who are involved in the application process and can complete and file their paperwork before May 1 can remain eligible for a Chinese child.