October 31, 2009
Chinese crackdown nets thousands of 'stolen' children
As many as 60,000 children missing each year
By Aileen McCabe, Asia Correspondent,
Canwest News Service
October 29, 2009
Sixty sad, scared kids stare out at you from an official Chinese government website called "Babies Looking for Home".
Many still in diapers, they are the faces of kidnapped children rescued by the security forces during a crackdown on child trafficking that began last April. Police netted some 2,008 missing children in their raids.
So far, they have been able to return many of them to frantic families across the country. The 60 faces peering out from the website are the first public attempt to identify the rest. Most of those pictured were stolen from their parents when they were so young, they have no idea of who they are or where they come from.
Police are hoping their parents might be able to identify them now, even though in many cases years have passed since they last saw their child.
When the pictures went up on the web late Wednesday, security officials from Beijing phoned Tang Weihua at her Shanghai home. One of the boys they couldn't identify was 15 years old they told her. He might be the five-year-old son she lost in 1999.
Tang rushed to her computer and searched the faces. "Looking at those kids, I thought I might be lucky enough to find my boy among them," she said in an interview Thursday. "It gave me a lot of hope."
It wasn't to be. Local police told her soon afterwards that the teenager had been identified.
"His own parents found him," Tang said.
Tang, 40, is part of a loose network of parents of kidnapped children who refuse to give up hope of finding their offspring and are personally searching for them long after the police have abandoned their cases.
She says that among her contacts, she's heard of about 70 kids who have been returned to their parents since the police crackdown began and it's giving her hope.
"I think, finally, the ministry is doing a great job. Many children have been rescued. Many families have been reunited. Though it is not my child, who doesn't hope for that?" she said.
This is the first time the Ministry of Public Security has taken such an active role in solving a problem that is nothing short of a national tragedy. There are 30,000 to 60,000 children reported missing every year in China, according to the ministry. But people like Tang, who are involved in the search for these kids, say the number is closer to 200,000.
Many, if not most cases are not formally listed because local police are unwilling or unable to investigate crimes that usually involve crossing provincial borders. As well, many of the parents think police might be complicit in the kidnappings. It is a lucrative business that can net about $4,000 for each boy sold and about $1,000 per girl.
The abducted children are mostly boys and are sold to families who want a son. The girls are often sold into marriage or to agencies that arrange foreign adoptions.
Since the crackdown began last April, Chinese media have reported a series of successful rescue operations and the arrest of many human traffickers.
Just last week, newspapers reported that 42 people were detained in northern China, suspected of trafficking 52 children.
So prevalent are the instances of and stories about child snatching at the moment, that parents around China are hyper alert to their kids. In a tragic incident this week at Yuhuan Chumen Primary School in Zhejiang province, next door to Shanghai, one book salesman was killed and four others injured in the schoolyard by a mob of parents who mistook them for kidnappers, according to local police.
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service