Beijing is tightening its control on unapproved adoptions of abandoned infants, in an attempt to crack down on baby trafficking.
Measures to ensure the welfare of those already in private orphanages have also been introduced following an accident in which six abandoned children, living in unsuitable conditions, died in a fire in Henan early this year. The tragedy alerted authorities to the problems unofficial adoptions of abandoned babies can cause.
Anyone who finds an abandoned baby must immediately inform their nearest sub-district government office, not keep the child or "dispose" of it, according to a statement jointly released on Monday by seven government agencies, including the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security.
"Institutions or individuals who use abandoned babies for profit or commit criminal offences will be severely punished," the statement says.
Existing adoption law, in effect since 1991, outlaws the trafficking of abandoned babies who have been adopted and the abandonment or sale of one's own children. There have been cases in which people who put abandoned babies up for adoption in exchange for money have faced criminal charges.
Zhang Zhiwei , a lawyer who has worked on many baby-trafficking cases, said the new measures were aimed at cracking down on baby trafficking that occurs under the guise of adoption. There have been cases in which stolen babies have been formally adopted.
"It is necessary to inform the government and police when an abandoned baby is discovered, to prevent baby trafficking," Zhang said. He said those who failed to notify the government quickly during emergencies involving a found child, such as when a child needs to first be taken to hospital for medical attention, would be exempt from punishment because of their good will.
The government also said that private institutions that already care for abandoned children must be properly equipped and staffed and meet national standards for fire safety and hygiene.
Facilities that fail to adhere to such standards, or refuse to abide by other regulations enacted in the best interests of the children, would have their charges taken away and placed in the care of government-run child-welfare facilities.
Individuals who wish to adopt abandoned babies must follow formal adoption procedures set out by the government.
Under existing adoption law, foster parents should be older than 30, childless, healthy and financially capable of raising a child.