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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
China executes baby smuggler
Chinese baby
Trafficking could involve thousands of children
The leader of a gang convicted of running one of the China's largest baby trafficking rings has been executed.

Li Guoju, a farmer from Henan province, was executed on Thursday for his part in trafficking and selling 76 babies, the Beijing Times reported.

Li's gang was caught after 28 baby girls were found on a bus in 2003.

Officials believe thousands of children are trafficked every year, sold for money to childless couples and to poorer areas in need of extra labour.

Officials say many others are forced into marriage or sexual slavery, or are used as servants.

The trafficking ring was convicted of buying more than 200 baby girls from smugglers and medical workers, and selling them in central China, the Beijing Times said.

More than 60 ring members have either been executed or punished, it reported.

Little is known about the scale of the trafficking of women and girls in China, but it appears to be thriving.

The problem is exacerbated by China's strict birth control policies, which limit many couples to only one child, and impose fines if they exceed the limit.

An apparent gender imbalance, with far more boys recorded born than girls, has also meant a shortage of brides for sons. Families may also buy trafficked women and children to use as extra labour and household servants.

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