CHILD TRAFFICKING IN CHINA
Baby for sale in the 1930s Child trafficking is a big problem in China, despite severe legal punishments that include the death penalty. Families who buy trafficked children are driven partly by the traditional preference for male heirs, ignorance of the law and a strict one-child policy that has driven a thriving market in baby boys, who fetch a considerably higher price than girls. Girls and women also are abducted and used as laborers or as brides for unwed sons.The deputy director of the Public Security Ministry has assailed what he called the practice of “buying and selling children in this country.” It is not uncommon for parents to send their kids off to school and never see them again. The child victims are usually sold to parents who want a child or a spouse for their child. Some are sold to factories for forced labor, or forced to work as prostitutes, maids or beggars. The police generally offer little help or even sympathy. [Source: Associated Press, March 10, 2012]
Babies are sometimes snatched from their parents' arms and sold to couples unable to conceive or who desperately want a boy. Kidnapped girls and women are frequently sold to men in remote areas who are unable to find brides due to a sex imbalance resulting from the draconian one-child policy, which has also encouraged sex-selective abortions. Chinese newspapers have reported that thousands of young children in the south-west were sold “like cabbages” to work in factories in other provinces.
Chinese courts often hand down harsh punishments, including death sentences, to child traffickers. Chinese laws were strengthened in 1991 to clearly prohibit the commerce of children. Kidnapped children plus those that have been sold by their parents or orphanages end up in the baby trafficking market. Even though China has strict laws against baby buying and strict laws that prevent purchased children from entering the international adoption market many do.
Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Child abduction is a scourge for China's poor, particularly migrant workers. Thousands of small children have disappeared from Shenzhen and other manufacturing boomtowns of southern China, where the anonymity of millions of people coming and going makes it easy for traffickers and their victims to blend into the crowd. Most of the children snatched are boys, who are then sold for as much as $10,000 to families, sometimes thousands of miles away, that are childless or without sons.”
Child Trafficking Numbers in China
Jack Chang of Associated Press wrote: “As many as 70,000 children are estimated to be kidnapped every year in China for illegal adoption, forced labor or sex trafficking, making it one of the world’s biggest markets for abducted children, according to the state-run newspaper China Daily. By comparison, in the U.S., about 100 children are abducted annually by people who are strangers to them, said the Polly Klaas Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing crimes against children and assisting in the recovery of missing ones. [Source: Jack Chang, Associated Press, December 27, 2014]
Leo Lewis wrote in The Times: Estimates for the number of children abducted each year vary. Chinese media recently quoted officials at the Ministry of Public Security as giving a range of between 30,000 and 60,000 kidnappings per year. Many believe that figure significantly understates the true extent, and that as many as 200,000 children a year may be wrenched from their families. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, February 11, 2011]
In March 2012, AP reported: Chinese police say they rescued more than 20,000 abducted women and children across China in 2011. A report Sunday from the Ministry of Public Security said police rescued 8,660 abducted children and 15,458 women in 2011 as nearly 3,200 human trafficking gangs were broken up. No figure was given for the total number of abductions in 2010. Experts said this is only the tip of the iceberg and many cases are not even reported. About 80 percent of the trafficked babies are girls. The remainder are mostly boys with health problems or physical impairments. Many of the victims are from migrants families.
Child Trafficking Trade in China
Leo Lewis wrote in The Times: Child-trafficking in China overwhelmingly involves minors from the larger cities being stolen from their parents and sold for between 20,000 and 70,000 yuan ($2995-$10,475) to families in rural provinces. In many cases, the children are bought by families who either cannot have children or have a daughter but would prefer a son. Many of the abducted children are beggars collecting small change for their families. Some abducted beggars are maimed to increase income for their captors.[Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, February 11, 2011]
Based on confessions of those caught, the sources of the babies are paid between $25 and $70 per child,. Villagers often sell their own children and use the money to build homes, buy tractors and pay for fertilizer. Middlemen who buy the children sell them for $400 or more to sellers that deal with the final customers. Buyers pay $1,200 for “substantial goods” or girls and $2,000 for “quality goods” or boys. Many of the recipients of children get away with it by registering the children as adopted.
Wang Xizhang, a high-level law enforcement official in Fujian province, told AFP potentially large profits have fuelled the trade. A healthy male infant bought for 30,000 yuan ($4,810) in poor provinces such as Yunnan can be sold for 70,000 to 90,000 yuan in the comparatively wealthy provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, Wang said. According to Associated Press after China toughened its anti-trafficking laws in 2009, prices for abducted children shot up as much as tenfold to $32,000 for boys and nearly $10,000 for girls, he said. Children considered particularly attractive fetch even higher prices. [Source: AFP, December 26, 2012; Jack Chang, Associated Press, December 27, 2014]
According to AFP: Feeding the trade is the sale of children – sometimes by those most entrusted to protect them. Reports two months earlier said a couple in Shanghai sold their daughter to buy an iPhone. They claimed they wanted to give her a better life, with a wealthier family. Yang Jing, a 35-year-old mother from southwestern Sichuan, told AFP she has spent 13 years trying to retrieve her son after he was sold to a richer couple in Jiangsu – by her husband. “They told me it didn’t count as kidnapping… because the father gave him away,” she said. [Source: AFP, January 13, 2014]
The child trafficking business is increasingly being run by professional gangs rather than freelancers. Some have been purchased by criminal gangs to serve as props for beggars or sold to criminal syndicates, where they are beaten and fed stimulant drugs or narcotics. Some are reportedly forced into prostitution or to commit burglaries.. At some railway stations in urban areas, migrant workers from rural areas reportedly can be seen making a sinister sales pitch to passersby. "Won't you buy a boy?" they ask.[Source: Kenichi Yoshida, The Japan News/Asia News Network, May 22, 2013 /=]
Many blame the problem on greed. Baby kidnapping was a crime that was regarded as unthinkable in the Mao era and would have been difficult to get away with anyway with neighbor watch committees on the watch. But as Xia Xueluan, a sociology professor at Peking University told the Los Angeles Times, “mortality has disappeared, and people now do anything for money.”
Cases of Kidnapped Children in China
The victims, according to AFP, have included two were brothers, “Dou Dou” and “Yuan Yuan”, kidnapped as infants on the same day in 1991. A short-haired girl abducted on her way home from kindergarten in 2010 was described as “wearing a black-and-white cotton jacket when last seen”. Many are stolen in the poorer interior and sold to families on the wealthier eastern seaboard, particularly provinces such as Fujian, said Deng Fei, a Beijing-based journalist who helps locate children. Children in rural areas are especially vulnerable, as two in five live apart from their parents, who have migrated elsewhere for work and often left feeble grandparents in charge. [Source: AFP, January 13, 2014]
In November 2003, a kidnaping ring that specialized in children was broken up. Based in Guangdong Province, it sold toddlers between the age of 3 and 4 for between $120 and $960. In March 2002, police found 28 baby girls, none older than three months, in the back of a long-distance bus in Guangxi province. Drugged to keep them asleep, the babies were wrapped in quilts and stuffed, two to four together, in nylon tote bags. One baby died of suffocation. Others were blue from lack of air. Twenty passengers on the bus were arrested for trafficking. The babies were on their way to Anhui Province after being purchased from a hospital in Guangxi for $12 to $24 each. After they were rescued the children were sent to a an orphanage.
The baby-trafficking gang involved in the trafficking of the 28 baby girls was centered in the city of Yulin in Guangxi Province. In July 2004, 52 members of the gang were convicted of kidnaping, with the ringleaders sentenced to death or life in prison.
In June 2004, the leader of a gang that abducted 120 baby girls was sentenced to death. The girls were abducted from 1998 to 2003 in the city of Puyang in central China’s Henan Province and sold to make money. In one police raid on the gang, 27 babies were rescued. The youngest was ten days old. Th oldest was 18 months.
In July 2004, Chinese police arrested 95 members of a gang in Inner Mongolia charged with trafficking 76 babies. The gang had purchased babies when they were less than five days old from their parents at about 30 local clinics and hospitals in 2003 and 2004 for sale in other provinces,
Many children are sold willingly by parent desperate for money or just plain greedy. In Henan, a man who sold his infant son for $1,100 to buy lottery tickets was sentence to 10 years in jail and fined $600.
Some rings specialize in the international market. One ring that was broken up had sent dozens of children to Singapore over a five-year period. The Hengyang Orphanage in Hunan, which has supplied children adopted by U.S. families, has been caught buying babies.
In December 2009, railway police detained 47 suspects and rescued 21 babies in a month-long crackdown on child trafficking. One sting operation netted 18 suspected child traffickers and 12 babies. Many of the children were abducted in Yunnan Province and taken by trains bound for Jiangsu and Shandong Provinces.
In March 2010, the bodies of 21 babies were found washed up on the shore of a river outside Jining in Shandong Province . Some had hospital tags around their ankles, including one found in a bag labeled medical waste. The babies died in the hospitals and were dumped by two men who were paid by the families of the children. [Source: AP]
In November 2010, two men were executed for abducting ans selling 15 children. One of the men---55-year-old Hiu Minguhia---was convicted of kidnaping and selling nine children from 1999 to 2006. The other---27-year-old Su Binde---was found guilty of abducting six children in 2005 and 2006. [Source: Xinhua]
In April 2010, 23 people were put on trial for their involvement in the sale of nearly 50 babies. The members of the ring were accused of buying babies boys for between $1,900 and $2,925 in Yunnan Province and selling them in the northern China for $5,850 and buying girls for between $750 and $2,100 and selling them for $2,925. On the defendants on official told AFP, “Most of them have little education and didn’t realize what they had done breaks the law.”
In July 2011, the police announced that they had rescued 89 babies from child traffickers.
Mom and Pop Baby Trafficking Operation
Duan Yuelin is a child trafficker from southern Hunan Province who sold 85 baby to six orphanages for around $600 each between 2001 and 2005 and got caught and spent four years in prison. He said that when his network was in operation his phone ran off the hook with demands. The orphanages, he told the Los Angeles Times “couldn’t get enough babies. The demand kept going up and up, and so did the prices.” [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, February 2010]
Duan, an illiterate garbage collector in his 30s who got into child trafficking after finding several abandoned babies, ran what the Los Angeles Times described as “mom and pop” baby trafficking ring with members of his family. He said at first he didn’t think he was breaking any laws because the babies weren’t going to government orphanages and it was a common and accepted practice for peasants to sell unwanted children to other families.
Duan said he ran his business like any other business . He dealt with a supplier in Guangdong who charged extra for babies that were prettier or stronger than the others. Duan paid cash on delivery and demanded the same of his buyers and said prices were largely set by supply and demand. He told the Los Angeles Times the orphanages often haggled over the price. ‘sometimes they would give us money in advance to buy the babies. They’d say, We’ll take this many babies at such-and-such price a price,” he said.
It was easy for the orphanages to disguise the origin of the children. Duan’s father told the Los Angeles Times, “They would fabricate the information, They would say that the baby was found in a Sunday market, near the bridge, on the street. Very few of the stories they put in the babies’s files were true. Only the director of the orphanage knew the babies were really from Guangdong.” Laws that required the orphanages to look for the birth parents were easily skirted.
Duan said that even though his family broke the law the babies they handled that ended up being adopted have a better life. His mother told the Los Angeles Times, “Many of those babies would have died if nobody took care of them. I took good care of the babies...You can be the judge---am I bad person for what I did?”
Biker Gang Arrested for Selling Children in China
In January 2009, police broke up a gang of motorcyclists that snatched toddlers to sell in distant provinces, the Chinese media reported. The children were abducted in broad daylight from the southern city of Yueyang, in Hunan province, and sold for as little as 860 yuan (£85). [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 14, 2009]
The state news agency, Xinhua, said police spent four months investigating the gang before rescuing five kidnapped children and arresting 13 suspects. The Yueyang public security bureau said it did not know how many had been abducted in all. The Beijing News reported that the children, aged two and three, were the children of migrant workers. They were sold in Yunnan, Sichuan or Fujian provinces for prices of up to 26,000 yuan (£380). The newspaper added that one child was abandoned when it was found to be a girl, suggesting that the gang may have been selling the toddlers to families who wanted an heir. [Ibid]
Police Bust Baby Trafficking Ring in Eastern China
In November 2011, AP reported: police in eastern China have busted a human trafficking ring involving poor migrant couples who were selling their babies, a state-run newspaper reported. Police in Shandong province's Zoucheng city found that 17 infants had been sold in the city to Chinese buyers, the Global Times newspaper said. Police rescued 13 of the babies and sent them to welfare centers, and a search is under way for the other four, the paper said. [Source: AP, November 5, 2011]
The report cited an investigating police officer as saying the couples were mainly migrants who had moved from poor areas in Sichuan province in southwest China to Zoucheng to seek work. It quoted the officer, Chen Qingwei, as saying the husbands would go out to work while their wives sold their babies to raise money.
One couple had sold three children, the newspaper said. Chen said baby boys could be sold for up to 50,000 yuan ($7,730), while the price for girls was 30,000 yuan, much more than the parents could earn from farming. There is a thriving black market in children in China---mostly involving buyers who either want more children or want them as slave labor---that endures despite harsh penalties for traffickers, including death. The country's one-child policy limits most urban couples to one child and rural families to two.
In July 2011, authorities in southern China rescued 89 trafficked minors, including one as young as 10 days old, and arrested 369 suspects after uncovering two child trafficking gangs.
China Arrests 802 for Child Trafficking in Single Round-Up
In June 2012, AP reported: “Chinese police arrested 802 people on suspicion of child trafficking and rescued 181 children in a major operation spanning 15 provinces, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security said. The recent operation broke up two trafficking rings and led to the arrests of the ring leaders, the ministry said in a statement posted on its website. [Source: AP, July 6, 2012]
“The national operation was set up earlier this year after local police spotted trafficking signs, including frequent appearances of out-of-town pregnant women in a clinic in north China’s Hebei province, the ministry said. State media reported that parents wishing to sell their babies could find potential buyers through the clinic. A doctor at the clinic was arrested, state media said. It was unclear whether the pregnant women were among those arrested. In central China’s Henan province, an inspection of a long-distance bus turned up four suspects who tried to sell four infants, the ministry said. [Ibid]
See Old-Child Policy
Abandoned Children and Children Sold By Their Parents
“Many trafficked babies are abducted, but some are sold by families who are too poor to care for a baby or do not want a baby girl. State media report that a baby girl can fetch 30,000 to 50,000 yuan ($4,800 to $8,000) and that a baby boy sells for 70,000 to 80,000 yuan ($11,200 to $12,800). Last year, China rescued more than 8,000 children who were abducted or willingly sold by parents. [Source: AP, July 6, 2012]
child labor In the 1990s it was relatively common for parents with unwanted children to abandon them. Orphanages were often overwhelmed by requests and didn’t have enough staff and formula to take care of all the children that were sent their way.
Because it was illegal to abandon children even at orphanages, babies were often left in cardboard boxes or bamboo baskets near orphanages and firecrackers were set off to let staff members at orphanages know where the babies were. One woman who worked at an orphanage at that time told the Los Angeles Times, “We’d find them all over. They’d be wrapped in rags, filthy...Sometimes they’d have ants all over their face because babies have a sweet smell and ants like them.”
Things began to change in the mid 1990s when orphanages began participating in programs that sent children abroad for adoption. Instead of rejecting babies orphanages began seeking them. But as this was happening incomes were rising and sex-selective abortions were becoming more common and thus the supply of babies was drying up and orphanages fought among themselves to get their hands on the ones that were available.”
Duan told the Los Angeles Times, “It used to be that you’d get 50 or 100 yuan [$7.30 to $14.60] per baby, then 700 or 800, but there was more demand and prices kept rising and they’d bring in babies from other provinces.” Guangdong ended up being a major source because a lot of migrant workers there who couldn’t keep their babies. In some cases, according to the Los Angeles Times, women that took care of children out of good will seized the opportunity to sell abandoned children to traffickers rather than turn them over to orphanages.
Abduction of Children in Southern China
Reporting from Shenzhen, Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “The thieves often strike at dusk, when children are playing outside and their parents are distracted by exhaustion. Deng Huidong lost her 9-month-old son in the blink of an eye as a man yanked him from the grip of his 7-year-old sister near the doorway of their home. The car did not even stop as a pair of arms reached out the window and grabbed the boy. Sun Zuo, a gregarious 3 1/2-year-old, was lured off by someone with a slice of mango and a toy car, an abduction that was captured by police surveillance cameras...Peng Gaofeng was busy with customers when a man snatched his 4-year-old son from the plaza in front of his shop as throngs of factory workers enjoyed a spring evening. “I turned away for a minute, and when I called out for him he was gone,” Peng said. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 4, 2009]
Thousands of other children stolen from the teeming industrial hubs of China’s Pearl River Delta and have never been recovered by their parents or by the police... The extent of the problem is a matter of dispute. The Chinese government insists there are fewer than 2,500 cases of human trafficking each year, a figure that includes both women and children. But advocates for abducted children say there may be hundreds of thousands. Sun Haiyang, whose son disappeared in 2007, has collected a list of 2,000 children in and around Shenzhen who have disappeared in the past two years. He said none of the children in his database had been recovered. It’s like fishing a needle out of the sea, he said. [Ibid]
Anecdotal evidence suggests the children do not travel far. Although some are sold to buyers in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, most of the boys are purchased domestically by families desperate for a male heir, parents of abducted children and some law enforcement officials who have investigated the matter say...The demand is especially strong in rural areas of south China, where a tradition of favoring boys over girls and the country’s strict family planning policies have turned the sale of stolen children into a thriving business. [Ibid]
Peng, who started an and hoc group for parents of stolen children, said some of the girls were sold to orphanages. They are the lucky ones who often end up in the United States or Europe after adoptive parents pay fees to orphanages that average $5,000. The unlucky ones, especially older children, who are not in demand by families, can end up as prostitutes or indentured laborers. Some of the children begging or hawking flowers in major Chinese cities are in the employ of criminal gangs that abducted them. I don’t even want to talk about what happens to these children, Peng said, choking up. [Ibid]
Buyers of Abducted Children in China
Su Qingcai, a tea farmer from the mountainous coast of Fujian Province, explained why he spent $3,500 last year on a 5-year-old boy. “A girl is just not as good as a son,” said Su, 38, who has a 14-year-old daughter but whose biological son died at 3 months. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. If you don’t have a son, you are not as good as other people who have one. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, April 4, 2009]
Anxi, a verdant county in Fujian where some of Shenzhen’s stolen boys are thought to have been sold, people focus more on the pain of the families without sons. Zhen Zibao, a shopkeeper in the Kuidou, said that buying a son was widely accepted and that stolen children could be found in most towns and villages. She and other residents noted that when a daughter married and moved to her husband’s home, it often left her parents without a caretaker in old age. Then there is the dowry, a financial burden that falls to the family of a bride. If you have only girls, you don’t feel right inside, said Zhen, who has one child, an 11-year-old son. You feel your status is lower than everyone else. [Ibid]
Still, in many rural areas, including Anxi County, a resident whose first child is a daughter is allowed to have a second. Having a third child, however, can mean steep fines as high as $5,800 and other penalties that include the loss of a breadwinner’s job. A boy, by contrast, can often be bought for half that amount, and authorities may turn a blind eye if the child does not need to be registered as a new birth in the locale. [Ibid]
In some cases, local officials may even encourage people desperate for a son to buy one. After their 3-month-old son died, Zhou Xiuqin said, the village family planning official went to her home and tried to comfort her and her husband, who was compelled to have a vasectomy after the birth of the boy, their second child. He said, “Don’t cry, stop crying, you can always buy another one,” Zhou recalled. [Ibid]
Zhou and her husband, Su, the tea farmer, were still in mourning in October 2007 when they spotted a child at a Buddhist temple in their village, Dailai, a picturesque hamlet of 800 people nestled in the fold of steep mountains. The boy was eating candy like he was hungry, Su recalled. Everything he was wearing was too small for him. [Ibid]
A man with the boy claimed to be his father. He said that he was from a nearby town and had three sons, but that he needed money to take his ill wife to the hospital. I asked how much, said Su, an earnest man who works long hours in a clothing factory when he is not tending his tea plants. After some quick bargaining, the price was dropped to $3,500 from $4,100, and a few hours later, after borrowing money from friends and family members, they took the boy home. They named him Jiabao, which means guarantor of the family. [Ibid]
Image Sources: Baby for sale, Agnes Smedly; Wiki Common, CNN China Smacks, Asia Obscura
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated July 2015