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In a recent statement reported by China Daily, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao showed his support of the growing effort to help children who are forced to become beggars – children who are often abused, exploited or worse; victims of abduction.
It is the last concern that has fueled a national campaign, led by the public in an unusual display of NGO activity, to stop child traffickers and return lost children to their biological parents. According to HumanTrafficking.org, China suffers from an epidemic of internal trafficking of children for sexual or labor exploitation and estimates suggests between 10.000 to 20.000 victims each year. One reason is that child beggars are an unfortunate source of revenue for crime organizations. In major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, child beggars are not an unusual sight but their stories often involves being kidnapped and even deliberately crippled to raise profit.
Another reason is that the cultural values surrounding children has fueled a market for child trafficking. China’s ‘one-child’ policy – combined with a preference for sons – is held partly responsible for the development. Some parents are prepared to buy a stolen child if they are unable to have a boy of their own and the price is estimated to be around $5.000, according to the BBC. The cultural value, however, is much higher as is the male child that continues the family name and traditionally takes care of the elderly parents along with his wife. A daughter ends up being a social disadvantage as she is obligated to take care of her in-laws. Another aspect is that couples who are unable to conceive a child would be desperate enough to buy one illegally because adoption is complicated and most children who are delivered to orphanages are disabled.
Der Spiegel investigated the tragic phenomenon last year and found that desperate parents of kidnapped children had only small chances of tracking down their child. Family clans control things in the villages and corruption is ever present. “Everyone knows when a new child has suddenly arrived in the village,” Lo Shouquan told Der Spiegel in an interview, “and no one asks any questions.”
Between 2001 and 2005, the Chinese police led a strong campaign against trafficking and arrested more than 25.000 suspected traffickers while rescuing more than 35.000 victims. In November 2009, two men were executed for abducting and selling 15 children in total. In 2010, a woman was sentenced to death for 49 accounts of trafficking. Despite the effort, the numbers of abductions are still soaring and grassroots activity has taken over where the government seems to have failed. The most remarkable example of activism is the use of microblogs to connect parents with lost children; the pioneer is a professor from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who encouraged his readers to take photos of child beggars in the hopes that parents could identify missing children. The microblog inspired the creation of thousands similar sites and the most recent success story was Peng Wenle who was found, after having been snatched three years ago, through a user on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
Despite a hopeful surge in public interest, China is listed on the Tier 2 Watch List in the 2010 U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report where it has been noted that the Chinese government fail to sufficiently address the country’s trafficking problem. The recent comment by Premier Wen Jiabao may be a step in the right direction but a massive effort is needed to effectively crack down on the lucrative trade. In the meantimes, parents are advised to keep their children under a watchful eye.