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Police crack China baby sale gang

14 January 09 11:33 GMT

Police in southern China have broken up a gang that abducted migrant workers' children to sell in distant provinces, state media reports.

The children, mostly toddlers aged two or three years old, were snatched in Hunan province's Yueyang city while they were playing or sleeping.

They were sold for between 860 yuan ($125, £86) and 26,000 yuan ($3,800), the Beijing News said.

Five children had been rescued and 13 suspects arrested, Xinhua said.

The children were snatched in broad daylight by gang members on motorbikes, it added.

Police said they did not know how many children had been abducted altogether. The abductions began in September 2008, Xinhua reported.

One-child policy

Child trafficking is seen as a growing problem in China, despite government attempts to crack down on it.

Facts and figures are not publicly available but there is evidence that abductions take place on a huge scale, says the BBC's Jill McGivering.

One official estimate by the US government said between 10,000 and 20,000 people are trafficked within China every year, and that the vast majority are women and children.

The problem is exacerbated by strict birth control policies, which limit many couples to only one child.

Some families want a boy - one of the children seized in Yueyang was abandoned when she was found to be a girl, the Beijing News said.

Families may also buy trafficked women and children to use as extra labour and household servants.

There have been several high profile cases of abducted children being rescued from mines and brick kilns - prompting a Chinese government campaign against slavery.

Analysts say the general freedom of movement that came with China's economic reforms has made it easier for trafficking gangs to operate.

The authorities launched the country's first anti-trafficking programme in Yunnan Province two years ago.

But, our correspondent says, most official efforts have focused on cross-border trafficking, a problem which causes friction with some of China's neighbours. Families within China whose children disappear still get little help.

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