Parents descend on Beijing to hunt for China's stolen children

Desperate families claim trafficking gangs are selling baby boys for up to £4,000

They came from across China to protest under the watchful gaze of the police, brandishing handmade placards with pictures of their missing children. In a sign of growing discontent, the parents' rare demonstration in the centre of Beijing was aimed at pressuring the authorities to do more to investigate the cases of tens of thousands of children snatched and sold every year.

"My wife and I can't sit at home waiting for the police, we keep looking. The longer you wait, the more hopeless you get," said the father of one boy Liu Jingjun, who went missing this year.

Many of China's missing boys are sold to childless couples who turn to criminal gangs to supply the treasured male heir while the girls are trafficked to become prostitutes or brides in rural areas. China's One Child Policy has led to an alarming shift in the gender divide with a major shortage of girls.

Baby boys can sell for as much as £4,000, while girls are sometimes sold for just £300, according to some child welfare groups. Some end up working in brick kilns in the heartland, others as beggars in the booming cities of the east coast. Scandals have occasionally erupted over the sale of abducted children to orphanages for adoption abroad.

The parents protesting in Beijing met through a website called "Baby Come Home" which lists more than 2,000 missing children and led to an informal network of desperate adults. Some were reluctant to give their names in Beijing because of the police presence and many returned home after authorities told them to end the protest.

The authorities responded to the problem in April last year with a high-profile public crackdown on trafficking. Officials say this has led to the break-up of nearly 2,400 criminal gangs and seen nearly 16,000 people detained.

But the US State Department's trafficking report for 2010 said that despite significant efforts, the government did not comply with the "minimum standards" for eliminating trafficking. It said there were continued reports of children being forced into prostitution.

China does not give figures, but an estimate based on reports for a British television documentary suggested that up to 70,000 children were snatched from the streets every year in China.

In a country where the social welfare net is still being constructed, having a child provides security in old age. A preference for males is common in China's rural regions, and families sometimes abort baby girls because they are limited to one or two children by family-planning laws.

But this preference has caused a potentially disastrous gender imbalance in the world's most populous country. In some regions, the male-female ratio can be as high as 130 males for every 100 females, compared to an average ratio of 107-to-100 in industrialised countries.

Daughters become members of their husband's family when they marry and move away, prompting the saying: "Raising a daughter is like watering someone else's fields", whereas boys grow into men who can till the fields and work as migrant labourers in the cities.

The gender gap has created a situation where there are not enough women of marrying-age for China's single men – and organised gangs have moved in to fill the gap.

Police say they have freed more than 10,000 abducted women including 1,100 foreigners, mostly from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Mongolia, since April last year as the widening gender gap fuels bride trafficking and prostitution.

One mother from Datong in Shanxi province lost her daughter Wang Min back in 1997 and has been searching for her ever since. "My daughter was only eight when she disappeared, she'd be 21 now," says her mother, her voice cracking as she spoke. "I went to the police immediately after she disappeared, but since I cannot provide any evidence to the police, they cannot really give any practical help. All I can do is travel to places when I hear of a clue.

"I have another child now, but I still miss Wang Min, I miss her a lot. Maybe I won't even recognise her now if she passed me in the street, but I will never give up hope of finding her," she said.

Li Ni's son disappeared in February 2009 in Xi'an. "A lot of parents have already travelled to nearly all the provinces in China, using all the money in the family," she said.

"I am so desperate to find my son and I will continue to look for him using whatever means necessary, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many hardships I have to endure."

"I believe those who abducted our kids, they are still human beings, they still have feelings just like you or me. I know of one kidnapper who took a kid for a long time, then saw the pain he was causing the parents on the media, so he brought him back because of the pressure from his heart," she said.

"Maybe one day my son will also come back to me in this way, and I will fight for him until that day."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The infrastructure, support services and const...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border