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China Wakes to Horror of Human Trafficking

May 3, 2000 · 

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Published in The Foreign Post
(April 27 – May 03, 2000)

BEIJING -China has launched a massive police operation against trafficking in women and children, pulling back the curtain on a problem it once told its people and the world it had eradicated on the 1950s.

The extent of the crisis, revealed in figures little by little in state media this month, is alarming.

Some 1,100 women and 500 children were saved from pimps and people traffickers in Southern Guangdong, 1,600 women and 59 children in Anhui in the east, 202 women and 25 children in Northeastern Heilongjiang, and 113 women and 23 youngsters in northern Gansu.

With the current police rescue operation scheduled to last three months, this year’s national total will be much higher than 7,660 women and 1,814 children the government said were kidnapped and sold last year, which was still 11.4 higher than in 1998.

At the heart of madia attention has been 15-year-old Kang Ming’e, whose has made the covers of popular newspapers with her story, which bings to life th eplight of thousands of babies and young girls.

Raised until the age of 12 in Shannxi province, she moved to nortehrn Hebei with other migrnats after becoming an orphan. There she was abducted by a coal miner who she was forced to marry.

She became a mother at 13 before finally being freed by police two years later..
Loke most who share fate, she belongs to the official class of Chinese mogrants, authorized since the 1980s to roam the country to try to lift themselves from poverty.

In the past, peasants could not move around because of strict restrictions on travel and a draconian residential permit system.

Their numbers are growing rapidly and estimates say there are now up to 150 million such migrants.

In a country where the gap between rich and poor continues to grow amid an ambitious economic reform program, economic migrants, used as a source of labor, areespecially vulnerable to the people trade.

Often finding themselves in precariuos conditions, they hesitate to alrt police to kidnappings, especially if the boy or girl was not authorized under strict familyplanning rules.

Those rules, which still impose a limit of one child for urban couples and two children for rural couples if the first is a girl, has given rise to a brisk trade in children, generally boys, who are preferred for their ability to carry on a family name.

In January, the discovery of 42 children stolen from migrantfamilies in the poor southwestern province of Guizhou provoked a quick reaction from the public.

Hundreds of parents called the orphanage where they were placed to reclaim their offspring, forcing authorities to announce DNA tests to confirm their parentage.

The price of children varies by province but usaully ranges between 1.000 and 10,000 yuan. Young girls are mostly destined to become wives for farmers unable to pay a dowry, the cost of which can be ruinous.

By Elisabeth Zingg

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