Jin Hua was handed over in a small hotel room in Nan Chang, 1,500 miles from Peking. It was just after 2pm and Karen and Jonathan White had been travelling for 27 hours. They were almost too exhausted to savour the moment they had been looking forward to for five years. She smiled at them as if in recognition that she was luckier than some born Chinese and female.
Restricted by government edict to one child per family, the Chinese want sons. Bringing up a daughter is said to be like watering another man's garden. The government admits to 100,000 abandoned baby girls. There are thought to be many more. Most state orphanages are well run, but resources are few. Children are easy prey to disease and death, the inevitable consequences of overcrowding, poor nutrition and lack of immunisation.
"If we lived in a bedsit in the most deprived part of London, she'd still have a better chance than she would in a Chinese orphanage," says Jonathan. As it happens, the Whites live on the edge of Leeds, in a comfortable semi-detached.
Jasmine, as she is now known (Jin Hua means "golden flower"), glowed with wholesomeness as she sat in the front room in her spotless Babygro, gurgling happily at the white rabbit clutched in her tiny hands. Her new parents looked on adoringly. Entranced as they are, the Whites are well aware that this is the easiest part of adopting a child from a very different culture.
Jonathan is a self-employed accountant. Karen is on maternity leave from the Midland Bank. Both are 32, married for 11 years and resigned to never having children of their own. Four attempts at in vitro fertilisation came to nothing.
Adoption was their last option. They were fourth from the top of the local authority's list. By Christmas they were almost guaranteed a white, Anglo-Saxon child. No embarrassing looks from strangers peering in their pram. No cruel taunts from schoolchildren. No heavy financial outlay.
Instead, they chose to embroil themselves in a bureaucratic nightmare, to travel thousands of miles, to risk rejection in later life, and to pay around pounds 10,000 for the privilege. A pounds 2,000 donation to the orphanage was expected as part of the deal. Legal fees, air fares, hotel bills had to be paid.
Then there was the pounds 3,000 demanded by Leeds social services department to carry out 12 home visits. Although two years have passed since the Government made it legal for British couples to adopt children from China, the politically correct view in most local authorities is that trans-racial adoptions should be a last resort.
Before their application could be granted, the Whites had to prove they were not racist. "I couldn't really follow the logic of that," says Karen. "Why would anyone who is racist want to adopt from abroad?"
Why indeed? But then why should a couple from Leeds want a baby abandoned on a doorstep of an orphanage in Nan Chang?
A newspaper article first drew her attention to the plight of the Chinese orphans. The irony was not lost on her. Here they were, desperate for a child, while half-way across the world there were tens of thousands of baby girls considered surplus to requirements. "It seemed logical to tie up the two," says Karen.
But there was much more than logic at work here. Above all there was common humanity. She was stung by a suggestion that they were a comparatively wealthy Western family going shopping for a baby in the Third World. "You don't go and pick one off the shelf," she says. "You're assigned one. And we made it plain we would have a baby with special needs."
Jasmine has one leg slightly longer than the other. Apart from that, she is perfect.
They have read as much as they can about China, studied the language, made contacts in the Chinese community in Leeds, and joined national groups that promote Chinese culture. "We'll try to teach her as much as she wants to know about her own traditions," says Karen.
The Whites are one of 40 British couples who have adopted Chinese babies, more details from Oasis, Dan-Y-Craig, Balaclava Road, Glais, Swansea, SA7 9JH. Please send a stamp-addressed envelope and pounds 5 for information pack.
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