PARENTS SEEKING KIDNAPPED CHILDREN AND COMBATING CHILD TRAFFICKING IN CHINA

COMBATING CHILD TRAFFICKING IN CHINA

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seeking abducted children
Jack Chang of Associated Press wrote: The U.S. State Department said in its annual trafficking report this year that China “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” Chinese authorities have tried to show they’re tackling the problem, including launching a special anti-kidnapping task force in 2009, which government media say has busted 11,000 trafficking gangs and rescued more than 54,000 children across the country. In October, the issue was highlighted in the Chinese-produced movie “Dearest,” which told the true story of a couple who found their abducted son after searching for three years. Still, many parents say they toil largely on their own, with the police at best leaving them alone. [Source: Jack Chang, Associated Press, December 27, 2014]

China said it rescued 24,000 kidnapped children in the first 10 months of 2013, probably a fraction of total cases. The figures 11,000 child trafficking rings and 54,000 rescued children, has been used since 2012. [Source: AFP, December 26, 2012, February 28, 2014]

China also plans to introduce laws to punish buyers of children and parents selling their own children. China has trumpeted the success of an intensified crackdown on the kidnapping and sale of children and women recently. In 2011, police said they had rescued more than 13,000 abducted children and 23,000 women over the past two years or so. [Source: The Telegraph, September 28, 2013]

In September 2013, The Telegraph reported: “ Police forces from 11 provinces were involved in the operation to break up a massive network that stole, bought and sold children in Henan province in central China and other provinces. Revealing one of the biggest busts of its kind in years, officials said on Saturday that the group had targeted children in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in China's southwest and transported them to other provinces for sale.

Parents of missing children have complained that police have given them little help in hunting for missing sons or daughters. According to ro AFP: “Police have sometimes refused to open inquiries because the low chance of success might hurt their performance record, and have resisted pursuing families who buy the babies.” [Source: Agence France-Presse, February 28, 2014]

China Arrests More than 1000 Baby Trafficking Suspects

In February 2014, more than 1,000 people suspected of involvement in baby-trafficking were arrested in China in a police operation which also rescued 382 infants. AFP reported: “A total of 1,094 suspects involved in four baby trafficking rings were detained in a nationwide operation which began on February 19, the Beijing News daily said, citing a police statement. China has a flourishing underground child trafficking industry, for which tens of thousands of children are believed to be stolen each year, with demand fuelled by a one-child limit combined with a traditional preference for sons. [Source: Agence France-Presse, February 28, 2014]

“Police were alerted after investigating a series of adoption websites which were found to be fronts for child traffickers, the Beijing News report said. China’s state-run Xinhua news agency added that the use of such websites was an emerging trend amongst traffickers. It was unclear whether the rescued infants would be reunited with their parents.

Two Chinese Men Executed for Abducting and Selling Children

In February 2009, China executed two men who abducted and sold children, some of whom still cannot find their parent. The Xinhua news agency reported that Hu Minghua, 55, and Su Binde, 27, were executed after separate courts found them guilty of taking children from their families to sell, especially to childless rural couples wanting boys.[Source: Reuters, February 16, 2009]

According to Reuters: “Hu was found guilty of abducting nine children from 1999 to 2005. Five were returned to their parents, but "the rest were rescued by the police but have not found their parents," said Xinhua, citing a statement from China's supreme court, which must authorize any executions. Su was found guilty of stealing six children from 2005 to 2006, one of whom has not yet found his parents.

Return of an Abducted Child in China

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Their love for their new son was boundless. They bought him new clothing and had their daughter drop out of middle school to take care of him. They did not think much of the fact that Jiabao did not understand the dialect spoken in that part of Fujian and seemed indifferent to the local cuisine. Su insisted that he never imagined that the boy had been stolen. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 4, 2009]

In August 2008, Su learned the truth after the police in Sichuan Province arrested the man who had sold them the child. The man, part of a ring of seven people who had abducted 11 children, had sold four of them to families in their township. The man, according to the police, has since been given a 12-year sentence. By the time the couple got home from work the day they got the news, their son and the three other stolen children in their village had already been taken away by the police. The couple was inconsolable. We were lied to, we were swindled, Su said as his wife’s eyes welled up.

There was, however, a small consolation. A sympathetic policeman in Sichuan, the province where the boy was stolen, helped put them in touch with his birth parents. The two couples have since been in frequent contact; Su said the real parents held no grudge, acknowledging that the family had cared for their son well. The father was so grateful, he told Su he would be on the lookout for local families who had two sons but were too poor to care for them. He said that way I don’t need to deal with child traffickers anymore, Su said.

Google Maps Helps Chinese Man Find Family 23 Years Being Kidnapped

In May 2013, Business Insider reported: “A Chinese man who was abducted on his way to kindergarten 23 years ago has finally found his family using Google Maps, according to reports in Chinese media. Luo Gang was abducted in the Chinese province of Sichuan and taken to a far away city, about 1,600 kilometers away. The heartwarming story has been brought to the public by Fujian province’s local news portal nhaidu.com. [Source: Business Insider, May 17, 2013]

“Luo was just five years old when he disappeared from a small town near Guangan, southwestern Sichuan province. His parents searched for him but eventually gave up all hope and adopted a young girl. Luo instead grew up hundreds of miles away in Sanming city in southeastern Fujian province. While his adopted family were apparently loving, Luo was determined to find his birth parents. “Every day before I went to bed, I forced myself to re-live the life spent in my old home,” he told reporters.

He drew a map of what he remembered about his home, including two distinctive bridges, and last October he uploaded it to Baby Come Home, a charity dedicated to locating missing children through the help of volunteers. A volunteer wrote back to Luo with some vital information — a family in the city of an area called “Yaojiaba” in the Sichuan county of Linshui had lost their child some 23 years ago. Could that child be Luo? Luo used Google Maps to zoom in on Yaojiaba, and it was immediately clear to him this was his home. “That’s it! That’s my home,” Luo reportedly shouted in tears.

Luo was finally reunited with his family — nhaidu.com has pictures of the tearful reunion. It is not clear if charges against his adopted family will be brought, the South China Morning Post reports, or if they played a direct role in his kidnapping. Amazingly this isn’t the first time a lost child has used Google Maps to find their home decades after the fact.

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Family Reunited with Kidnapped Boy Thanks to Twitter-Like Service

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “When 3-year-old Peng Wenle vanished into the night in March 2008, his parents despaired of ever seeing him again. Although a surveillance camera had captured video of a man scooping up the youngster from a crowded street outside the family's small shop in the southern city of Shenzhen, the images were too grainy to identify the perpetrator or provide clues on where he might have fled. "China is such a big country. We thought it would be like finding a needle in the ocean," his mother, 29-year-old Xiong Yili told the Los Angeles Times. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2011]

“Technology, however, made a crucial difference in this case. An all-out campaign by Chinese microbloggers to circulate photographs of abducted children has led to the boy's reunion with his family....A university student who had seen an Internet posting by the child's father, Peng Gaofeng, on Sina.com---which hosts a Chinese version of Twitter---thought the missing child looked a lot like a 6-year-old boy he'd seen in a village in Jiangsu province, about 800 miles away. He e-mailed a photograph of the 6-year-old to Peng Gaofeng, who recognized the child as his son. DNA tests have confirmed the relationship.”

“This is not the first time an abducted child has been reunited with parents thanks to the Internet, but it may become the most celebrated. Chinese censors have allowed only snippets of news coverage about child abductions, usually upbeat reports praising police who bust rings of child traffickers. Not this time. The reunion was widely tweeted and televised to the point that it seemed like a reality TV show. Crews from Phoenix Television, a Hong Kong-based private broadcaster, followed the tearful father to Jiangsu to bring back his son. The reunion has also been covered by state media.”

The two set eyes on each other Tuesday outside a police station. The boy, dressed in a red parka, was escorted by a policeman. Peng Gaofeng was too choked with sobs to speak, but when the policeman asked the youngster, "Who's that?" he reportedly answered, "That man crying is my father." After the DNA results came back, Peng was given custody of the boy. "When I was giving him a bath, I could still recognize his body. The tears started flowing again and my son asked me with a Jiangsu accent, "Dad, what happened? What's wrong with you?" he wrote on his microblog. On the way home to Shenzhen, the boy was quiet and morose, leading Peng to speculate, "Maybe he misses the family he was living with." Well-wishers and television crews crowded the Shenzhen Airport on Thursday night when the boy, escorted by his father, flew home and into the arms of his waiting mother.

Peng Wenle’s case was fairly typical of cases involving the kidnapping of sons of migrant workers. Peng Wenle's parents had come from Hubei province two years earlier and operated a small store in Shenzhen where fellow migrant workers paid to call home. It was just after dinner on a balmy evening that the boy wandered out to the street to play with friends. That is the time of day that most abductions take place, activists say. "We were busy. It happened in just a minute that we weren't paying attention," said Xiong, his mother. "It is so easy to lose kids in the city, not like the countryside where everybody knows each other."

The couple put huge red posters with their missing child's photo on their shop and distributed fliers begging for information around Shenzhen. Convinced that they would never find their child, they had another son a year ago. "This is a very ordinary case. There are so many like them," said Yang Guan, an activist with the non-governmental agency Baby Come Home, which has helped reunite 180 children with their parents over 2 1/2 years. She said that the use of social networking and microblogs has made it far easier to find children because of the speed with which information can be conveyed. "By pushing just one button, you can send information all over the country," Yang said. "Microblogging has made people much more aware of the problem."

Looking for Abducted Children in China

Many parents take matters into their own hands. They post fliers in places where children are often sold and travel the country to stand in front of kindergartens as they let out. A few who run shops have turned their storefronts into missing person displays. We spend our life savings, we borrow money, we will do anything to find our children, said Peng, who owns a long-distance phone call business in Gongming, not far from Shenzhen. There is a hole in our hearts that will never heal. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 4, 2009]

Xu Xiaojiao was watching an undercover report on children forced to work at a brink kiln when she saw her missing son, who had disappeared, and she believes was kidnapped, two years before. She told AP, “I rushed to the factory, but my son was not there any more, I’m sure they moved him to another place. Since them I had no news.” Xu, like other mothers of children that have disappeared, spends a great deal of her time roaming China looking for clues to her son’s whereabouts. [Source: AFP]

A mother who visited several brick kilns told AFP, “In some factories, we saw people working “their hair was really long, they wore ragged clothes, they had no shoes. Some had wounds on their bodies...We tried to ask them where they were from but we could see from their expressions they didn’t dare respond. I hear they beat them if they talk.”

Desperate Search for China's Missing Kids

Reporting from Xuzhou in southern China, Kenichi Yoshida wrote in The Japan News, “In front of a van plastered with pictures of about 100 children's faces, Xiao Zhaohua and Wu Xinghu pleaded with passersby for help. "Please don't think this is someone else's problem, and never take your eyes off your children!" they shouted. "We don't want more people to feel the same sadness we do." Xiao, 37, and Wu, 33, are on a personal mission to find their abducted children. The faces on the van are of other missing children--and cases of children being snatched are continuing unabated in China despite a recent police crackdown. [Source: Kenichi Yoshida, The Japan News/Asia News Network, May 22, 2013 /=]

“In downtown Xuzhou, a major city in Jiangsu Province on China's eastern coast, Xiao and Wu stopped their van and placed a cassette deck on the road. The song that emanated described the pain felt by parents of abducted children. The lyrics went: "You are my whole life. However bitter it may be and whatever perilous mountains and rivers I have to cross, I'll keep looking for you until I die."

“Xiao knows this anguish all too well. His life was turned on its head at about 7 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2007, when his 5-year-old son, Xiao Xiaosong, vanished while going to buy candy at a nearby store with his older sister. "I gave Xiaosong some money to buy sweets because he said he was hungry, but he disappeared before his sister realised what had happened," Xiao said. "I should have gone with them to the store." Xiao, who ran a clothing store in Huizhou, Guangdong Province, at the time, is still torn by guilt, and blames himself for letting his children go unaccompanied. /=\

“Xiao reported his son's disappearance to police, and also took matters into his own hands. He shut down his store and distributed flyers calling for people's help to find Xiaosong. He drove all around the province on his motorbike to spread word of his plight. He joined an association of families of abducted children that was established by a scholar in Beijing devoted to resolving the abductions. In 2011, Xiao squeezed out his last savings to purchase the van for 50,000 yuan (about 800,000 yen). With the help of supporters, other parents of abducted children joined him on trips to all corners of China to seek clues that might help trace their missing kids. /=\

Chinese Mother Left Homeless by 17-yr Hunt for Kidnapped Son

In January 2014, AFP reported from Fuzhou: The 17-year hunt for her kidnapped son cost Ye Jinxiu her marriage, home and family. And when she found her boy, now a grown man and stranger, he wanted nothing to do with her. Now 59, homeless and alone again, Ye roams the streets of Fuzhou on China’s east coast helping other parents search for their children, devoting her failing health to what she knows is largely a lost cause.[Source: AFP, January 13, 2014 ~~]

“Having a child kidnapped is worse than having your heart torn out,” she said, gazing at a huge canvas she had laid out by a bus stop, printed with “missing” adverts and chubby-cheeked faces. “If someone rips your heart out it takes one second, you die and you’re not aware anymore,” she said. “If your child is kidnapped and not found, then every day as soon as you wake up, your heart hurts from thinking.” ~~

“Ye, in Fuzhou, said she criss-crossed more than 10 provinces after her then six-year-old boy disappeared in 1993, collecting rubbish, washing dishes and borrowing to pay her way, and sleeping in parks. She nearly died, she said, before her husband begged her to stop and finally left. She claims she found the trafficker’s home by 1995 but authorities only acted after years of pressure. In 2000 three men were sentenced to at most three years’ jail and a decade later police found the son, Lu Jianning, she said. ~~

“The night before their reunion Ye could hardly sleep. But her son did not even hug her. He stayed for a year while she took on more debt to pay for his schooling. Then he disappeared, and he has not contacted her in two years. “I don’t regret looking for him. How he lives his life is up to him,” Ye said. “When your child goes missing you can’t stop looking.” She lays out her canvas in quiet places where police do not bother her and hands out fliers filled with youthful faces. Some passers-by paused to scan the descriptions. One, surnamed Zhen, blamed the government for failing to help the rural poor. “If they didn’t have to move to the city, they could take care of their kids and there would be less kidnapping,” he said. Ye’s struggle has cost her her health – she coughs blood and can hardly see – and she owes relatives “so much money that I’m afraid to go home”, she says.” ~~

Lack of Help from Police in Child Abduction Cases in China

In Shenzhen and the constellation of manufacturing towns packed with migrant workers, desperate families say they get almost no help from the local police. In case after case, they said, the police insisted on waiting 24 hours before taking action, and then claimed that too much time had passed to mount an effective investigation. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 4, 2009]

Several parents, through their own guile and persistence, have tracked down surveillance video images that clearly show the kidnappings in progress. Yet even that can fail to move the police, they say. They told me a face isn’t enough, that they need a name, said Cai Xinqian, who obtained tape from a store camera that showed a woman leading his 4-year-old away. If I had a name, I could find him myself.

Chen Fengyi, whose 5-year-old son was snatched from outside her apartment building in Huizhou, said she called the police the moment she realized he was missing. They told me they would come right over, she said. I went outside to wait for them and they never came. When she is not scouring the streets at night for her son, Chen and her husband go to the local police station and fall to their knees. We cry and beg them to help, she said, and every time they say, “Why are you so hung up on this one thing?

The reluctance of the police to investigate such cases has a variety of explanations. Kidnappers often single out the children of migrant workers because they are transients who may fear the local police and whose grievances are not treated as high priorities. Moreover, the police in China’s authoritarian bureaucracy are rarely rewarded for responding to crimes affecting people who do not have much political clout. Peng said the police preferred not to even open a missing person’s inquiry because unsolved cases made them appear inefficient, reducing their annual bonuses. There are exceptions. In a number of high-profile cases, the police have cracked down on trafficking rings and publicized the results. But such help remains rare, parents say.

Parents Search for Missing Chinese Kids Harassed More Than Helped by Police

Jack Chang of Associated Press wrote: “In the grainy video, Zhang Xiuhong can see her daughter ride her bike down a country road on her way to school one spring afternoon six years ago. In the next shot, Yao Li rides down a driveway a few moments after her classmates walk by. Then, the pictures stop: The 15-year-old disappeared just minutes after that surveillance footage was taken, leaving only a shoe as a clue in a nearby ditch. Zhang and her husband have since searched all over China for Yao Li, hoping to rescue her from a child trafficking industry that swallows up thousands of boys and girls every year. Along the way, the couple have also been harassed, arrested and jailed repeatedly by police who accuse them of stirring up trouble by joining with other parents and taking their search to the streets. “We go out and search, and then all these police surround us,” Zhang said in the dingy room she and her husband share near where her daughter was last seen. “Nobody’s watching for my daughter. Nobody’s doing anything. How can we have any more hope?” [Source: Jack Chang, Associated Press, December 27, 2014 ^*^]

“In a tightly monitored society where authorities detain even relatives of air crash victims demanding government action, Zhang and other parents of missing children have learned that they must fight on two fronts. First, they’re up against a sprawling, opaque network of abductors and illegal buyers and sellers of children. And since police efforts to find children often leave parents unsatisfied, they must negotiate with authorities to hunt for the kids themselves.^*^

“Xiao Chaohua, whose son was 5 when he disappeared outside his shop in 2007, said appeals to government-run TV to broadcast pictures and names of individual children are largely rejected, as are suggestions to develop a Chinese version of U.S. Amber Alert warning systems to spread information about missing children through roadway signs or other means. “They won’t broadcast it because if they do, it’ll expose one of China’s problems – the fact that children go missing here,” Xiao said. ^*^

“According to Pia Macrae, China director for the international nonprofit group Save The Children, Chinese police are often more willing to help families with greater means, and even then frequently don’t tell parents what they’re doing. “The parents feel un-communicated to and want to take actions,” Macrae said. “We have seen a real effort to reach out from the police to improve things and we hope it will get better.”

Police Harass Group Of Chinese Parents with Missing Children

Jack Chang of Associated Press wrote: Several parents “said they were operating on their own. In fact, they said police harassment usually started when they gathered in groups of more than 20 wearing poster boards and handing out fliers with pictures of their children. Xiao said police have also stopped him when he drives his van pasted with photos of missing children. Chinese police regularly crack down on any groups they perceive to be organizing without government approval and threatening official authority, no matter the cause. [Source: Jack Chang, Associated Press, December 27, 2014 ^*^]

“The parents of missing children, however, refuse to give up. About 1,000 families have formed a Beijing-based support group that shares leads about missing children and negotiates with police to allow parents to search for their children. They often go to cities where child and sex trafficking rings are reported to be operating and try to track down suspected traffickers. “I’ve dedicated myself to finding him,” Xiao said of his son. “If I stop, I can’t do anything because I’ll be thinking of him.” Over the past six years, the group has found two children, both of them abducted from small cities and sold to adoptive families, Xiao said. The group found one boy in an orphanage in central Henan province, rejected by his purchasers because of a heart condition and just days from being sent overseas for adoption. ^

“Wu Xingfo, whose 1-year-old son was stolen while sleeping at home in 2008 in central Shanxi province, said he too has been harassed by police for trying to find his child. “All the parents in Shanxi created our own group to find our children, but the government said our act was causing trouble in society,” Wu said. “I’ve been imprisoned for two days. They’ve torn up the photos I’ve passed around of my son. I don’t understand why the police don’t take this seriously. It’s like you lost a dog or a purse to them.” ^*^

“Zhang – the woman whose daughter was last seen riding a bicycle – said she felt her “heart run cold” when police stormed a rally of more than a dozen parents she was attending in July in the southern city of Guangzhou, near where the country’s biggest trafficking networks are reported to operate. Like Xiao, Zhang and her husband, Yao Fuji, spoke with a haunting lack of emotion, clearly exhausted from years of anguish. “They say China has human rights, but this isn’t the case at all, not a single bit,” Yao said. “Before this happened with our child, we thought everything was great, just like we saw on TV. Now, we know it’s all fake.” As her husband spoke, Zhang silently replayed the video of her daughter riding to school, rewinding again and again to the moment she appeared on screen, just before she vanished. ^*^

Seeking Help from Beijing in Child Abduction Cases in China

Even reports in the official China Daily newspaper have acknowledged serious errors in the handling of abduction cases. Many are never registered as criminal cases---which require investigation---but as missing person incidents, and there is no system for reuniting rescued children with their parents. Only one of 34 babies rescued in a raid in Henan in 2004 was claimed by its parents. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 14, 2009]

Peng says that boys’ abductions are a growing problem that only the central government can address. He and others have been agitating for the establishment of a DNA database for children and stronger anti-trafficking laws that would penalize people who buy stolen children. If the government can launch satellites and catch spies, they can figure out how to find stolen children, said Peng, who helps run a Web site called Baby Come Home. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 4, 2009]

Chen Shiqu, the director of the Office of Combating Human Trafficking, a two-year-old government agency based in Beijing, said the problem of stolen children was exaggerated. He said that, contrary to parent advocates and some news reports, the number of cases was on the decline, although he was unable to provide figures to back up that assertion. Just say they are dropping by 10 percent a year, he said. He added that if parents were unsatisfied with the police response, they should call 110, China’s equivalent of 911.

Yang Jianchang, a legislator in Shenzhen, said he had been trying to get the central government’s attention, with little success. Two years ago, he said, a group of local businessmen tried to start a foundation to track missing children. But the government, which requires that the establishment of private organizations be approved, has yet to grant them permission.

Last June, after he sent a report on the issue to the central government and got no response, Yang started sending the Ministry of Civil Affairs a copy every month or so. I just don’t understand why no one is paying attention to this problem, he said. We need someone in the central government who will fight for the rights of the people, someone who has a conscience.

For the parents of missing children, the heartbreak and the frustration have turned into anger. Last September, about 40 families traveled to the capital to call attention to the plight of abducted children. They staged a brief protest at the headquarters of the national television broadcaster, but within minutes, dozens of police officers arrived to haul them away. “They dragged us by our hair and said, “How dare you question the government,” said Peng Dongying, who lost her 4-year-old son. I hate myself for my child’s disappearance, but I hate society more for not caring. All of us have this pain in common, and we will do anything to get back our children.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated July 2015


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