Beggar children rescued in Net drive

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 February, 2011, 12:00am

An online campaign that encourages internet users to post photographs of beggar children on a sociology professor's microblog reportedly led to six children being reunited with their families.

The campaign dominated mainland media and the blogosphere over the Lunar New Year, attracting more than 120,000 fans by yesterday, but criticisms have begun to surface.

Some say it infringes on the children's privacy and could raise other rights issues; others say the exposure of their faces online could put their lives in peril should kidnappers decide to move them elsewhere or get rid of them altogether.

The heated debate highlighted the gravity of the child-trafficking situation on the mainland and the flaws in its social welfare system, and added momentum to a police crackdown on an abhorrent crime.

The initiator of the campaign, Professor Yu Jianrong , of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has long been outspoken on social issues such as the petition system and land grabs.

It all started on January 25, when Yu posted a call for internet users to take photos of beggar children, many of whom have been kidnapped, and post them on his microblog, with details on when and where they were taken. The photos of more than 1,000 children have since been posted, and parents have been approaching police for help in recovering their children.

Yu said he was aware of potential problems. He said his microblog team was working on how to better protect children's privacy.

'We will build a new database, where my team will compare photos uploaded by internet users and those posted by parents, and only contact the parents when the two photos are confirmed to be of the same child,' Yu told the Qianjiang Evening News.

The Southern Metropolis News reported yesterday some beggar children in Shenzhen had disappeared from their usual street corners.

Meanwhile, police forced a beggar in Zhuhai and a man who claimed to be his father to undergo DNA tests after a couple from Shanxi claimed that the child was theirs after seeing his photo on the microblog. The test proved that the man was the child's father.

The voices of those against the campaign are getting louder.

'An adult who brings his child along for begging is forced to take a father-son test simply because of a photo taken by an irresponsible net user ... this is a blatant infringement of rights,' online commentator Mo Zhixu said.

Veteran rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said it was a legal dilemma: to expose a beggar child's face in order to rescue him, or to protect his privacy. However, ultimately, the campaign should be welcomed as a catalyst in reigniting the official crackdown on child-trafficking.

'Civic action cannot replace public powers. The internet galvanises manpower ... but civic action should only perform the role of assisting,' Liu said. 'The problem is that often when a parent goes to the police, the matter doesn't get resolved.

'This campaign should provide the impetus for the police and government departments to strengthen the crackdown and improve the social welfare system.'

Another microblog resulted in Hubei native Peng Gaofeng being reunited with his seven-year-old son on Tuesday, three years after the boy was snatched in Shenzhen, where Peng was working at the time.

Phoenix Weekly reporter Deng Fei had posted photos of the boy, Peng Wenle, on his microblog, which then spread across the blogosphere. On February 2, an internet user reported to Deng that he had spotted the boy in a Jiangsu village. With help from the police, Peng and Deng finally saw the boy, who immediately recognised his father.