Child Abductions in China, Then and Now

A close friend of mine in Shanghai sent me an email a couple of weeks ago, and I’d like to share it here. It looks at two newspaper articles, one from a few weeks ago and one from five years ago, and compares them for language and content. The topic of both is one of the grimmest, namely the abduction of children by officials who then sell the children to foreigners for adoption.

Today I saw this article in Shanghai Daily, about government officials in central Hunan confiscating babies from local families who violated the “one child” law. The babies were then sold to foreigners for adoption – apparently a very lucrative practice.

This sounded so familiar to me. I searched my own archives, and found the 2006 story I was thinking of, in the Washington Post:

The article is about the staffs of orphanages (“welfare homes”?) who paid kidnappers for stolen babies, which they would then sell to foreigners for adoption.

That does sound familiar!

Some striking parallels:

– 2006 story: “Twenty-three local government officials (…) have been fired.”

– 2011 story: “Officials with the family-planning authority (…) have been taking away babies from families (…) and putting them up for adoption,

– 2006 story: “Hengyang [Hunan], the city at the center of the case (…)”

– 2011 story: “(…) the family-planning department of Longhui County in Hunan [Note: Shaoyang, the seat of Longhui County, is just 75 miles from Hengyang]

– 2006 story: “They were purchasing infants from traffickers

2011 story: “The homes were even reported to have conspired with human-traffickers

– 2006 story: “(…) in exchange for mandatory contributions of $3,000 per baby.”

– 2011 story: “(…) overseas families usually paid US$3,000 to adopt a child.”

– 2006 story: “(…) a ring that since 2002 had abducted or purchased as many as 1,000 children”

– 2011 story: “They just abducted your babies starting from 2000 (…),”

Good god! It sounds like the very same story! The 2006 article said that 23 officials were fired over the practice, yet – it sounds like nothing at all has changed.

I wonder, is this some kind of central Hunan “specialty”? Or does it happen in other places, too? Maybe it’s just a bigger operation in Hunan, or for some reason it gets more attention in the press?

First, I need to congratulate my friend on his remarkable memory. Second, I wanted to quote from his email to me today, further expounding on this unhappy phenomenon.

You know the routine well: if you note a morally outrageous incident in China, someone is sure to pipe up that you are being racist, or that terrible things happen everywhere that people are poor and desperate, or China’s huge population raises the incident rate … blah blah.

Of course poverty and population size are factors behind lots of things. But … you know how it is, in China, sometimes you encounter incidents that are so beyond the typical moral pale, usually in some “mamu”-related way, that you cannot simply chalk it up to those factors.

For me, this story was an all-time classic of that genre.

I have no doubt babies are stolen and and sold in numerous sad places on earth. But … when the trading is being done by gov’t officials! And not just any gov’t officials, but gov’t officials in charge of … orphanages! And not just one orphanage, but apparently an entire regional *network* of orphanages! Over the course of many years! I mean … fuck. That’s not an act of impulse or poverty-spawned desperation. That’s an organized, large-scale, long-term operation. And now we learn that the operation is still apparently chugging away! Good god.

I have to agree with my friend. While China has made strides in dealing with corruption and other nasty problems, child trafficking still runs rampant. (Go over to China Geeks and dig around for some excellent posts on both child abductions and child beggars.) What can we chalk it up to? As with the dairy and melamine scandals and so many others, it’s about money and corruption (they go hand in glove) but it’s also about mamu, as my friend mentioned: a lack of concern for anyone who’s not in your family or circle of friends/co-workers.

In my last few trips to China I saw big improvements in this area. Most people lined up for the subways, and even the driving seems a lot more civil than in 2001, when I would frequently see cars drive onto sidewalks or fan out into the oncoming lanes. The “me-first” attitude is definitely changing, for the better. But stories like these are reminders that when it comes to making money, a relatively small group of corrupt Chinese will do nearly everything imaginable to get their piece of the pie. Even selling abducted babies to orphanages.

And yes, I know of the horrible things that go on elsewhere. But I also believe that China takes the lead when it comes to child abductions and, sadly, it makes the entire country, just about my favorite in the world, look bad. If ever there was a crime to crack down on hard, this is it.