Financial Times - Kathrin Hille - Patti Waldmeir
Although few exact numbers are available, police and parents agree that abductions of children for profit have become a national scourge in China. ...
For three years, Sun Haiyang and Peng Gaofeng have been something like brothers in arms. The two men, both migrants from central China, have been searching for their sons together – both having been abducted in the southern city of Shenzhen.
But now their paths divide. Mr Peng’s six-year-old son was found last week, helped by a grassroots viral internet campaign that seeks to reunite trafficked children with their parents through pictures of begging or stray children posted on a microblog. But the joy of the few reunited families mixes with the anger of the many more who are losing hope of ever finding their children again.
“Peng Gaofeng has hit the jackpot,” says Mr Sun. “But the chances of finding your child like this are close to zero. The problem of child trafficking cannot be solved by a microblog, it cannot be solved by the parents, it is so much bigger than all this.”
According to state media, the government estimates that up to 20,000 children are trafficked every year. Some end up employed by criminal gangs to beg on the streets, others are forced into manual work while many more are sold for adoption – sometimes overseas. Although few exact numbers are available, police and parents agree that abductions of children for profit have become a national scourge in China.
“Child abductions have entered a phase of high frequency,” Chen Shiqu, head of the Ministry of Public Security office responsible for countering human trafficking, said in a television interview posted on his blog.
According to Mr Chen, the trade is run by small syndicates with some members in charge of abducting children, others organising their sale and then supervising the begging. Most children are robbed from their parents’ side or cheated into leaving.
In Big Gong Village, a rural spot in the eastern province of Anhui, most villagers know how this is done. “Running child begging operations has tradition here,” says Gong Chunyan, the village’s communist party secretary.
According to local officials, the trend started in the 1980s when a villager took his injured son to hospital in Beijing and, having him beg to raise money for the treatment, discovered that this was a really good business. “Some villagers found that you could make far more money by letting children beg than working in the fields,” says Mr Gong.
But according to the central government, the beggar syndicates are still the smallest problem. “Illegal adoption is by far the biggest market,” says Mr Chen.
Stealing babies for adoption is an unintended consequence of China’s one child policy. Families desperate for a boy to preserve their lineage and care for them when they are old, provide a ready market for traffickers.
State media recently reported that two people had been sentenced to death in the city of Quanzhou for selling 46 baby boys for up to Rmb40,000 ($6,097) each. Girls fetch about half that price. Some children have been stolen and sold to orphanages, which then place them for adoption.
Beijing has tried to crack down on the phenomenon, launching a special campaign two years ago that has led to the freeing of 9,300 abducted children, and the arrest of over 17,000 people. Some of those have been executed. But many parents complain that the government is failing to fight the problem on most fronts.
Local police often refuse to register children as missing and are sometimes reluctant to follow leads offered by parents or even check security camera footage in the area where parents believe the child was stolen.
Only last year did central executive and judicial departments issue an order that police start a search as soon as parents report their child missing. The authorities have now started conducting DNA tests of all parents who lost their children to be matched with any rescued from traffickers.
Mr Sun thinks much more needs to be done. “We need to test every Chinese child below the age of 20,” he says. “There are 1.3bn Chinese people, only testing all our children gives us a chance to bring the lost ones back.”
He can be forgiven for demanding that much. His quest for finding his son has repeatedly led him to Beijing, where he wanted to petition the central government to pay more attention to the issue. But instead of helping him, police came after him and put him in jail to stop him from embarrassing the local authorities in the capital.