Online anti-abduction campaign receives official rebuke
Online campaign to save children kidnapped and sold as beggars does not respect the innocent, ministry says
The Ministry of Public Security has poured cold water on a popular online campaign to save abducted children.
Academics and celebrities launched the campaign at the beginning of last year. They called on people to take photographs of child beggars they suspect may have been kidnapped, post them online and send them to as many people as possible.
Those behind the campaign say it will provide clues to parents who have had their children kidnapped and increase the chances of children being rescued.
However, the ministry's social security administration department said on its microblog on Tuesday that virtually none of the photos of children taken by passers-by and posted online are of kidnapped children.
It was responding to an incident in Beijing this month in which someone put a picture of a girl and a woman on the internet and said the girl may have been kidnapped because she spoke a different dialect to the woman. The poster said he had reported the case to the police and was seeking help from other internet users for the girl.
The ministry said its investigation had found that the woman was the girl's aunt.
"A storm of love from the public is touching. But this movement's organisers should be wary," the ministry said. "They can't let people's love be taken advantage of or let the innocent be scarred mentally.
"Society needs love, but also respect."
Professor Yu Jianrong , a rural development expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told China Business News television last year that he launched the campaign by posting a letter from a mother seeking help to find her lost child on his microblog and unexpectedly received a flood of clues from his followers. "I came to realise the enormous power of internet users," he said. "Therefore, I launched this activity to fight against child traffickers."
In just a few days, 400,000 internet users said they supported the campaign and thousands of pictures were uploaded, so many, in fact, that Yu had to get volunteers to process posts and liaise with police and the media.
However, legal experts criticised the movement for infringeing on the rights of children and accompanying adults by posting the photos in a public forum.
Yu said campaign organisers were aware of the issue and that once children were rescued, their photos would be removed from the internet. "At the moment, the best way [to help such children] is that whenever people encounter a begging child, take pictures and upload them online," he said.
Yu could not be reached for comment yesterday, but on his microblog he said the campaign was about raising awareness of begging rather than kidnapping. On the mainland, many child beggars have been kidnapped or rented out by their families. Some are crippled to attract more sympathy.
Hunan lawyer Gan Yuanchun , one of the campaign's initiators, said he did not agree with the ministry.
"Among the children whose pictures were taken, some are absolutely kidnapped," he said. "Our campaign has played a role in pushing the security authorities to establish a nationwide children-searching platform last year and pushing the central government to issue a circular requiring local governments to strengthen the crackdown against begging by children."
Professor Yu Hai , a sociologist from Fudan University, said the ministry's comment showed its anger at having been shown up by the campaign.
"It's because the campaign revealed that the security authorities haven't done their job well," he said. "The authorities ought to join hands with the campaign but, instead, are unco-operative."