Law must come down on buyers of trafficked children

The one-child policy and traditional preference for boys has fuelled the market for stolen infants, but the courts are at fault, too

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 5:14am

For parents, there is no greater devastation than having their children abducted and sold like commodities in far-flung places, particularly so on the mainland where most families have just one child.

Sadly, trafficking in children and women has become a booming industry on the mainland, despite repeated and high-profile government crackdowns.

On Friday, the Ministry of Public Security announced police had rescued 92 abducted children along with two women following raids in 11 provinces.

In all, police detained 301 suspected members of an organised gang with clear divisions of labour, with kidnappers, delivery people and sellers operating independently to avoid detection.

The abductors "kidnapped and purchased" children in Yunnan and Sichuan , and delivery people took public transport or drove to the designated provinces where the sellers would find the buyers.

While the case may be shocking in terms of the numbers of abducted children and gang members, it is merely the latest in the multitude of similar cases that have come to light in recent years. Over the past five years, prosecutors have indicted nearly 19,000 traffickers of thousands of women and children, but analysts say that represents just the tip of the iceberg.

The government cannot be faulted for not trying hard to stem the trafficking, as the rising number of cases has caused widespread anger and threatened social stability.

Abductors of children and women face jail sentences of up to life imprisonment and even the death penalty for serious cases.

The Ministry of Public Security has set up a special office to deal with trafficking, but it has long been admitted that it is facing an uphill battle, and trafficking is still very active in many parts of the country.

According to state media reports, the kidnapping gangs are often family-centred, sometimes involving the entire family clan and their in-laws, making it very difficult for police to detect them. Some cases have suggested that gangs have set up sophisticated operations including sending kidnappers disguised as nurses or bribing doctors to snatch newborn babies from hospital wards as well as forging birth certificates and adoption papers.

Last month, in a case that shocked the nation, a doctor in Shaanxi province was arrested for lying to parents that their newborn babies had serious birth defects or died prematurely, before he then sold the babies to traffickers.

Obviously, China's one-child policy and tradition of relying on males to carry on the family line are partly to blame. Families, particularly in rural areas, would pay for having a boy or for a woman who can give birth to a boy.

In certain areas where there is already a serious imbalance of more men than women because of the one-child policy, women are bought as wives.

But there is one far more important reason that has not been much discussed until recently: buyers of children or women are rarely punished.

While the criminal code has stipulated severe punishment for the abductors, it has strangely allowed the buyers to go unpunished so long as they allowed the abducted women or children to leave when discovered by police and they could prove there was no abuse.

This has helped sustain the strong demand, which in turn has emboldened the abductors to take the risk.

At long last, the Ministry of Public Security is working with the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate on new legal interpretations that will pursue criminal charges against the buyers.

Let's hope authorities will expedite this process to help fight this despicable crime.