Buy, Sell, Adopt: Child Trafficking in China


By MARK MCDONALD
This 4-year-old Chinese boy was abducted when his shopkeeper father turned away for a moment to help a customer.The New York TimesThis 4-year-old Chinese boy was abducted when his shopkeeper father turned away for a moment to help a customer.

HONG KONG — In announcing the rescue of 89 abducted Chinese children on Christmas Eve, a senior police official said baby boys could now be purchased in China’s interior for less than $5,000 — and then resold for three times that amount in the wealthier coastal provinces.

The latest sting operation, which covered nine provinces, led to the arrests of 355 people for child trafficking. In the past two and a half years, according to government statistics, some 54,000 children have been rescued from traffickers.

These splashy announcements in the state-run news media about the “busting” of child-trafficking “rings” seem to come with a distressing regularity now in China. In the summer of 2011, a similar roundup was proclaimed — also featuring exactly 89 children — with the deputy director of the Public Security Ministry assailing what he called the practice of “buying and selling children in this country.”

In 2009, my colleague Andrew Jacobs reported some of the horrifying details from a series of child snatchings. A 9-month-old baby boy was grabbed by someone in a moving vehicle. A 3-year-old was enticed away by the offer of a slice of mango and a toy car. A shopkeeper’s son disappeared when his father turned away for a moment to help a customer.

Almost always, the abducted children are boys.

“Although some are sold to buyers in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam,” Andy reported, “most of the boys are purchased domestically by families desperate for a male heir.”

Su Qingcai, a tea farmer in Fujian Province, admitted buying a 5-year-old boy for the equivalent of $3,500, even though Mr. Su already had a teenage daughter.

“A girl is just not as good as a son,” Mr. Su, then 38, told Andy. “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.”

In his story in The Times on the latest round of arrests, Andy wrote that “the Chinese government says that 10,000 children are kidnapped each year, but some experts suggest the number may be as high as 70,000.”

The nationwide scourge of child abductions and baby selling in China first came prominently to light 10 years ago, when the police in Guangxi Province discovered 28 baby girls in the back of a long-distance bus.

The babies, all younger than 3 months, had been drugged to keep them quiet. News reports said they had been stuffed into tote bags. A story in the state-run newspaper China Daily was chilling in its matter-of-fact accounting of the incident in May 2002:

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 an orphanage.

The following year, China carried out its first executions of child traffickers.

Child-welfare advocates working in China say some kidnappings are the result of the increasing prices paid for adoptions by foreigners. Abducted kids often end up in orphanages, even though they aren’t orphans at all. Paperwork is forged. Identities are erased. The orphanage takes its cut.

It was revealed in 2005 that government officials and orphanage employees in Hunan Province “had sold at least 100 children to other orphanages, which provided them to foreign adoptive parents,” as John Leland reported in The Times.

“For some, it raised a nightmarish question: What if my child had been taken forcibly from her parents?

Scott Tong, a reporter for the radio program Marketplace, investigatedbaby buying and selling at Chinese orphanages in 2010. One trafficker, Chen Zhijing, said that during the 1990s she would get a few dollars from an orphanage for bringing in a child.

But then the orphanage began asking for more babies. “It started paying $120 each,” she said. “Then $250. Then $500 by 2005.”

Her son, Duan Yueneng, got involved in the trade, which expanded, and they began buying infants from a supplier hundreds of miles away in southern China.

“We sold babies to orphanages. Others did, too,” he said. “They bought them because foreigners wanted them, and then made big profits when the babies were adopted.”

Mr. Tong said Mr. Duan “reckons he trafficked 1,000 or more. Duan says the orphanages falsified foreign adoption papers for each of the trafficked babies.”

“Sometimes the orphanages listed my sister as the finder, or they just put down a fake name,” Mr. Duan said. “For Americans who adopted babies, let me put it this way: When were the kids really born? Who really found them?”

Local family planning officials in Hunan Province also were known to have forcibly taken babies from their parents for a variety of offenses, as my colleague Sharon LaFraniere has reported. Officials would prowl neighborhoods looking for unregistered newborns, working off indicators like baby clothes hanging on laundry lines.

Where the seized children ended up is unclear.

One man Sharon interviewed, Yuan Xinquan, said his 52-day-old daughter was taken from him when he couldn’t pay a fine for having been too young – 19 – to have married and had a child. Six men jumped from a government van, confronted Mr. Yuan at a bus stop, then took the child.

“He was left with a plastic bag holding her baby clothes and some powdered formula,” Sharon wrote.

“Adoptions from China currently account for more than one-third of all international adoptions to the United States,” said a statement on the Web site of the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, a workload that makes it “one of the largest adoption units in the world.”

Over the years, the consulate said, it has issued more than 70,000 visas to Chinese orphans adopted by Americans.

A total of 2,587 Chinese children went to American homes last year, most of them girls, most between the ages of 1 and 2.

But U.S. adoptions from China are declining, and last year’s total was the lowest since 1999. The high point came in 2005, when nearly 8,000 children were adopted by Americans.

In Asia, the U.S. government has no adoption programs with Cambodia and Vietnam, both of which are strengthening their protocols, although Cambodia has indicated that it will resume American adoptions beginning Jan. 1.

Also, India said this month it is refusing new applications from the United States due to a backlog of existing cases.

Americans also go to other Asian countries seeking adoptions, but not nearly the number who apply in China.

According to U.S. government figures, Americans adopted 736 South Korean children last year, about two-thirds of them boys, followed by the Philippines (229, mostly children between 5 and 12); India (226); Thailand (44); Japan (27); and Indonesia (two boys and a girl).

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