HONG KONG—China says it has rescued more than 400 kidnapped women and children from human-trafficking gangs during a crackdown last month, but parents of missing children say government efforts have barely scratched the surface of a growing social problem.
Public security vice minister Zhang Xinfeng vowed last week to extend the anti-trafficking campaign, which ran from April 9-May 4, calling on police at all levels to seek more information from the public in missing persons cases.
He said police had already rescued 196 children and 214 women during the campaign and broken up 72 human-trafficking rings, mostly in Guizhou, Jiangsu, Guangdong, Shandong, Henan, and Shanxi provinces, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
But parents in the southern city of Nanning said 200 children were still missing in their region, and police had prevented parents from staging a public protest to draw attention to the problem.
"On the day we planned to hold the protest, the police kept watch at the bus terminal and intercepted us," said a parent of a missing child surnamed Mo.
...Some men snatched the baby from my daughter’s arms and got away in a van..."
Mo, who is a member of a nongovernment group set up to support parents of missing children, said police figures from last month's campaign were suspect.
"Those are all old cases," he said of the reported success stories. "They were reported a long time ago."
"They re-reported the found children," Mo said. "We have several hundred missing children in the Alliance but not one has been found by police."
Mo said many parents who tried to report their children missing met with refusal by police even to open a case file, while local media had failed to publicize information about lost children.
Parents of missing children in the southern province of Guangdong said they were also planning further protests but faced surveillance from their neighborhood security committee.
"The police dispatched the neighborhood committee to monitor us," one parent said. "Whenever we go anywhere, they will follow us."
"Two days ago, a Hong Kong TV station tried to interview some parents of missing children, but had to do it secretly in a hotel. Once we contact any strangers or try to leave Dongguan, they will question us immediately," he added.
Vice police chief Zhang called for the speedy completion of a nationwide DNA database to help parents and police identify trafficked children.
Police departments at all levels should be ready to collect blood samples from parents whose children were confirmed missing and parents who actively ask to donate blood samples to aid investigations, he said.
Blood samples should also be routinely taken from rescued children, children of unknown origin who may have been trafficked, and homeless street children, he said.
Demand for children
Liao Tianqi, deputy publisher of the U.S.-based Chinese-language online magazine "Observe China," said the trafficking problem was fueled by a huge demand for children in China, regardless of their source.
"There is a huge market in China for children," she said.
"China has a one-child policy, and yet a lot of families want to have a boy. Of course it's not just male children who are being trafficked. It's girls as well."
She said boys were often sold to people as sons, while the girls ended up filling a traditional rural role, that of daughters-in-law who are raised in the same household before marriage to one of the family's sons.
"With the women, they are sold to rural families as wives, and in the worst cases, young girls and women are forced into prostitution," Liao said. "Another reason is to do with [deteriorating] social morality."
China has published a list of the top 50 most-wanted names for human trafficking, with two arrests made so far.
A mother from Dongguan, in southern China's Guangdong province, said her six-month-old boy was snatched from his sister's arms just outside the family's house in November 2007.
"My son was playing with my eight-year-old daughter. My daughter was holding him," the woman, surnamed Deng, said.
"Then some men snatched the baby from my daughter’s arms and got away in a van with a few other men inside," she added.
She said the local police had refused to support the family's plans to air a paid commercial appealing for information.
"The TV station demanded a note from the police station proving that our child was really missing," Deng said.
"But the police station said this was a big criminal case and as such cannot be publicized," she said.
"They said it would have a bad effect on society."
She said her family planned to continue protesting in the face of apparent inaction by the authorities.
Parents' support groups say around 1,000 children have gone missing in recent years from Dongguan and surrounding areas, although official figures only show 400 missing child cases.
Original reporting in Cantonese by Ho Shan and in Mandarin by Xi Wang. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.