Missing Children Spark Outcry

Thousands of children go missing in China every year, and parents say officials have so far done little to help recover them.
2009-05-04
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Woman displays pictures of her missing son in Xian, northern China, April 28, 2009.
AFP

HONG KONG—The disappearance of hundreds of children in southern China has prompted an outcry among parents, who say the government has done little to locate their children or determine what may have happened to them.

Authorities have dismissed as rumor concerns that hundreds of missing children may have been subjected to organ harvesting.

Announcing the return of three out of four missing children in Heyuan city, in Guangdong province, in recent days, Huang Jinlai, director of the Yuancheng district Public Security Bureau, told reporters of the organ-harvesting allegations: “This is nothing but rumor.”

Huang Jinlai’s comments come amid growing concerns from the parents of the missing that their children may be being harmed or exploited by those who steal them.

A mother surnamed Huang in Guangdong’s Dongguan city said she was worried the children may have been crippled and used in begging gangs, or had their organs harvested and sold.

One child got lost, that’s all. You should read the newspapers."

Heyuan police official

“The police are just like bandits,” Huang said. “They have no idea how we feel about this. I was crying at home last night. Why are they like this?”

“All these years, I haven't even known whether my child is alive or dead. I’m worried that some of the children have been crippled and left by the side of the road to beg for money.”

“Other people say that they take their hearts for transplant. It makes me scared just to think about it. I can’t sleep, day or night. I just keep thinking about it,” Huang said.

Inaction alleged

Another mother, surnamed Zeng, whose seven-year-old daughter went missing in 2006, said the government didn’t appear to take the problem seriously enough.

"Because you [the government] ignored our cases and didn't try very hard to solve them, there is little we can do [besides protest]. So many children disappear every year, and it's because you, the local government, don't take it seriously," she said.

"If you did your job of enforcing the law properly, we wouldn’t be losing our children."

An employee who answered the phone at the Dongguan municipal police department, and officials in the municipal government, declined to comment on the cases.

Repeated calls to the municipal Party secretary’s propaganda office went unanswered during office hours two weeks ago.

Other parents described a police crackdown when they protested last week.

"We wanted to see local leaders, but no leaders wanted to meet us. Therefore we decided to protest," one woman, surnamed Zhang, said.

"We walked for several hours. There were many police following us and by early afternoon we had clashed with them. Many of us were injured. Some were bleeding," said Zhang, who said her son, Wang Bin, was missing.

Another mother, surnamed Ye, said her son was abducted when he was nine months old.

"They overreacted by using riot police," she said of the authorities. "All they need to do was to have police maintain order."

Hundreds missing

Huang Jinlai said three children from Heyuan, surnamed Huang, Wen, and Tang were now back with their families, while an 11-year-old surnamed Miao, missing since April 5, had yet to be found.

The three boys were taken and sold to childless friends of the kidnappers. Four-year-old Tang Duowen was sold for 27,000 yuan (U.S. $3,970). He was let go after he refused to stop crying, officials said. Wen was sold for 40,000 yuan (U.S. $5,882).

Huang’s public statement contrasts with comments last week from Heyuan officials, who have so far denied that the children were the victims of kidnappers. Parents say kidnappers have taken hundreds of children in Guangdong since 2007.

An employee who answered the phone at the Heyuan municipal police department last week said Tang was not a “stolen child.”

“Who says we have kids ‘disappearing’? Why are there reports in Guangdong newspapers saying that our kids are disappearing?” the employee said.

“One child got lost, that’s all. You should read the newspapers. We have already issued a statement that was printed in the Heyuan News,” he said.

‘Wanted’ list

Miao said he received a call last week from Tang Duowen’s father telling him that his son was back at home, accompanied there in person by the Heyuan Party secretary, the secretary of the law enforcement committee, and Heyuan police chief Peng Dingbang.

Their presence indicates a growing concern about missing women and children, amid sharp criticism from the relatives of the missing that the authorities aren’t doing enough.

...Each town has several dozen parents who have reported that their children were missing, and we have 32 towns in Dongguan."

Zheng, father of a missing child

Police have drawn up a “wanted” list of the top 50 people they suspect of kidnapping women and children in a series of cases in recent years, a nongovernment group helping parents find their missing youngsters, said.

A recent communiqué issued by the Ministry of Public Security called on police in Shanxi, Fujian, Shandong, Henan, Guangdong, Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan to keep up their efforts to crack a series of cases of missing women and children.

It named as suspects 10 people, including Li Mingsheng, Lin Wenzhou, Wang Ying, and Wei Jiapei, all of whom are currently on the run.

Zhang Baoyan, spokeswoman for the “Baby Come Home” Web site that was set up to help the relatives of missing children, said she had been told about the wanted list by executives in the kidnapping office of China’s public security.

“There are a total of 50 people on the wanted list nationwide,” Zhang said. “The police have already asked for these 50 names to be published in the newspapers.”

“After that, they will focus on the most serious cases and really start to crack down in some key areas,” Zhang said. “But there are a lot of these cases. There are another 40 names still to be published.”

DNA database

A parent of a missing child in Dongguan surnamed Song said some of the parents didn’t believe that publishing such lists would work, and had yet to see proof that police had cracked a single case.

“They say they want to catch these human traffickers and child kidnappers, but we don’t believe them because we have yet to see this happen with our own eyes. I think these are empty words, and that no children have yet been brought home.”

Almost 1,000 children have gone missing in and around Dongguan since 2007, according to parent campaigners. None has yet returned home in that city, they say.

Around 100 parents staged a protest on the city’s streets on April 15. Some carried banners offering rewards of hundreds of thousands of yuan for the safe return of their children.

Another parent of a missing child, a man surnamed Zheng, said the number of missing children in Dongguan had surged since 2000.

"As far as we know, each town has several dozen parents who have reported that their children were missing, and we have 32 towns in Dongguan," Zheng said.

"Dongguan is not the only place," he added. "Similar cases also happened in Huizhou, Shenzhen, Zhongshan and Guangzhou."

In April, a private investigation company established to help relatives recover missing loved ones rescued a four-year-old boy from the eastern part of the province, around Chaozhou and Shantou.

China’s Public Security Bureau has pledged to set up a nationwide DNA database connecting all 236 labs in the country by the end of May 2009.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Hai Lan, Lee Ruo-ching, and Cheung Lik and in Mandarin by Yan Xiu. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Jia Yuan and Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.