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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
China halts baby trafficking ring
By Francis Markus
BBC correspondent in Shanghai

Chinese police say they have broken up a criminal ring which was trafficking dozens of babies.

They said they were investigating 95 people in the city of Hohhot, in China's inner Mongolian region. Eight people have been formally arrested.

The case is the latest in a series of high-profile police operations against child traffickers.

But many critics suspect that such catches are only the tip of an untackled iceberg.

According to police, the latest case involves the trafficking of 76 babies.

'Two hours old'

The oldest was five days old, while the youngest was a mere two hours old when they were allegedly bought by a trafficking ring from dozens of privately-run hospitals and clinics.

Many of the mothers were unmarried women, including students, or were unemployed.

A police source told the BBC that most of the babies were girls, but did not give details of the final buyers.

Baby girls are traditionally less highly regarded by rural Chinese families than baby boys.

But ironically this bias is fuelling a massive gender imbalance in favour of males, thanks to the illegal use of ultrasound scans. The technology is helping to drive up the commercial value of girls, at least in the eyes of the traffickers, as they become an increasingly scarce commodity.

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