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Saturday, 1 April, 2000, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
China targets kidnappers
Chinese family
Population control has left parents desperate for sons
By Duncan Hewitt in Beijing

China has announced a national campaign against the abduction and trafficking of women and children.

State media said the problem had become one of China's major crimes in recent years, with 6,800 women and over 1,600 children reported abducted or missing last year.

Kidnapped women are sold as wives or forced to work as prostitutes, while children are often sold to childless families in rural areas.

Police have recently smashed a number of kidnap gangs, but the severity of the problem has forced them to set up a national database of DNA from parents of missing children.

Chinese police say the campaign against human trafficking will target not just the kidnappers, but those who buy their victims.

Harrowing tales

State media have published a series of harrowing tales to reinforce that message.

Chinese family
Families want boys as male heirs or to work the land
A letter from an old man told of how his four-year-old grandson was kidnapped from a school playground.

He said the boy's parents had lost their jobs because they were spending so much time looking for him, while he himself was close to a nervous breakdown.

Newspapers also printed photos of a 14-year-old girl abducted and sold to a 51-year-old farmer, then re-sold four times, before she finally committed suicide; and of two teenage girls held in a cave for over a year, one of whom was nine months pregnant when she was rescued.

The campaign has been welcomed by the United Nations Childrens' Fund, which is working with the Chinese authorities on the issue.

Challenging tradition

But changing attitudes in rural areas remains a major challenge. Traditional thinking means families are often willing to buy kidnapped boys as male hiers or to help work their land.

And the preference for male children, combined with China's one-child policy, has led to a significant imbalance in the proportion of women to men in the countryside, creating a demand for kidnapped women as brides.

The sex trade provides another key market.

The scale of the problem was indicated recently when police released pictures of 35 rescued children, and were contacted by more than 700 parents who believed the children could be their own.

National database

A nationwide database is now being compiled to collect DNA from parents of missing children to speed the task of reuniting those rescued with their families.

Accurate figures on the trade are hard to come by, but more than 32,000 children are believed to have been rescued between 1995 and 1997, while police in China's north-western region of Xinjiang say they have seized over 1,000 traffickers and kidnap victims in recent months.

It is a reminder that the trade can be a lucrative one, with children typically fetching several thousand dollars a head.

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30 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
'Parents' swamp kidnap children
16 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese police seize kidnap gang
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