Three-year-old rescued in China's Yunnan amid public outcry over trafficking

The child is rescued by police after being abducted near a public toilet in Yunnan, an officer says.
By Xiaoshan Huang, Chingman, Jia Ao and Cheryl Tung
Three-year-old rescued in China's Yunnan amid public outcry over trafficking Dong ***min (L), is under investigation after his wife Yang ***xia (R), was found chained in a freezing outbuilding after giving birth to eight of his children, in a case that shocked China.

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan have rescued a three-year-old girl who was taken from a public toilet in Xinping county, amid growing public awareness of trafficking and abduction of girls and women, often for marriage.

An officer who answered the phone at the Xinping county police department confirmed to RFA that the girl had been found, but declined to comment further on the case.

A source inside the unofficial people-tracing community, which has sprung up across China in the absence of effective action by the government, said the girl was lucky to have been found by police, and had likely benefited from the public outcry over a woman kept chained up by her husband in Feng county, in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

Authorities in Jiangsu are investigating the husband of the woman found chained in a freezing outbuilding after giving birth to eight of his children for "illegal imprisonment," according to an official announcement.

Dong ***min, husband of Yang ***xia, is currently under investigation for "illegal imprisonment," while two other people surnamed Sang and Shi are being investigated for abduction and trafficking offenses, the Xuzhou municipal committee of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the city government said in a joint statement on the case.

The committee had earlier identified Yang as a woman known by the nickname Xiao Meihua from Fugong county in the southwestern province of Yunnan, although most of the official announcements in the case have met with renewed public anger at official inaction over rampant trafficking and skepticism that the authorities are constructing a narrative to limit damage to their own reputations.

Few now doubt that Yang -- who has been diagnosed with and treated for schizophrenia since a viral video exposing her living conditions sparked mass condemnation on Chinese social media -- is a victim of human trafficking.

A writer based in Nanjing, Jiangsu's provincial capital, who gave only the penname Jiang Chun, said the case has gripped the nation, exploding as it did into public consciousness during the Lunar New Year festival, a time for honoring and celebrating family life.

"Most social media users want this investigated in full, because it's not enough just to save Yang," Jiang said. "There are government officials who should be held accountable too, with all kinds of issues involved, including excess births [during the one-child policy era], illegal marriage registration [as Yang's mental capacity was in doubt], and fraud."

Online comments on the case this week have included growing anger at official negligence that allowed a woman with a severe mental illness to be taken to another province and married to a man without stringent identity checks and tests of her mental capacity.

Wave of public anger

Many believe that rampant trafficking, especially in women and girls for marriage, could never happen without official collusion, and accused the government of acting like a criminal organization.

Previous announcements from the CCP committee in Feng county, where Yang was living at the time the video went viral, found that she had been married to Dong ***min in 1998 after being brought  home by Dong's father, who found her begging on the streets.

But amid a growing wave of public anger over trafficking, the investigation changed its tune in later announcements, tracing Yang to Yunnan, saying she was likely abducted by Sang and others, implying she was sold to Dong.

"There was also an issue with the conduct of officials at the marriage registration bureau, because Yang wouldn't ... have been eligible for marriage, given her psychiatric problems," Jiang said.

"There is also the fact that she gave birth to eight children at a time when we weren't even allowed to have two yet; so this should have been the responsibility of the local family planning bureau," he said.

Investigative journalist Deng Fei reported last week that hundreds of local officials have been drafted in to investigate trafficking in Feng county after anecdotal reports that the region is notorious for trafficking in women and girls.

Lu Jinghua, a Chinese dissident living in the United States, said the public outcry in the case appeared to be getting some results.

"It's great that so many urban residents and intellectuals are speaking out about this, despite the fact that these issues don't affect them personally," Lu said.

A resident of Qinglong township in the southwestern province of Sichuan, who gave only the surname Zhang, said her mother Wang Jun has been missing for several months, but police wouldn't accept a missing persons report from her.

"The police didn't want to know ... they wouldn't open a case at the police station," Zhang said. "We went there several times and asked if they could use the SkyNet surveillance system [to find her] but they just looked at surveillance cameras in Qinglong township, and there was nothing to see."

Slave labor

Unofficial websites offering family tracing services have sprung up to fill the void left by police inaction.

A person familiar with the issue said many of those who go missing have disabilities of some kind.

"There are quite a lot in any county [who go missing]," the person said. "I used to work in a non-profit, which used to search for kidnapping and abduction victims, and I helped to track down three missing persons."

"It was very difficult to find them, and I just got lucky, because someone just happened to see my posts in group chats, and gave me a lead," he said. "One was the case of a grandmother watching a child, who disappeared after going up the mountain to play, and the grandfather killed himself."

He said traffickers often target vulnerable adults or children with a view to using them as slave labor.

"I have a cousin who was kidnapped and trafficked twice, and forced to work as a slave, which made him insane," he said. "There was a disabled person who worked in a shop in Taipingsi village in Hubei, who bought his wife from Guizhou. I saw several videos [to substantiate this] ... but they still haven't been caught."

"The police in this country don't care about this, and they do nothing."

The ministry of public security in Beijing had made no response to a request for comment at the time of writing.

An official at the Yunnan provincial bureau of civil affairs refused to comment on the trafficking of women and missing persons cases when contacted by RFA on Wednesday, saying the information was a "state secret."

"You ask about missing persons, but we only have figures for minors, and we don't give out that information," the official said.

According to a 2020 report by the Chinese Civil Society Research Institute, a think tank under the civil affairs ministry, around one million people were missing in China during that year, with a peak in 2016 of 3.94 million.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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