The tragedy of children being bought and sold, and the seeming indifference of their parents, has intensified the debate about the darker impact of China’s one-child policyChinese police comfort babies rescued from a group of traffickers in Henan Province on 6 May, 2005. The families of 10 infants recently rescued from a trafficking ring did not claim them back. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
When police in China’s southeast Jiangsu province arrested seven members of a child-trafficking ring in late August, they also rescued 10 babies who had recently been trafficked by the gang. In a country where thousands of children are thought to be kidnapped each year, it seemed, for once, that there might be a happy ending for some of the affected families.
The only problem? The parents of the rescued infants didn’t want to take their offspring back.
The tragedy of children being bought and sold, and the seeming indifference of their parents, has intensified the debate about the darker impact of China’s one-child policy.
All 10 of the children rescued by Jiangsu police came from Liangshan, a hardscrabble region in the mountains of southwest China’s Sichuan province, where the average annual income is less than $400 per year.
The price traffickers will pay for a healthy child is more than 10 times that amount. Male children are particularly sought after by traffickers, who generally take children from rural areas and sell them to couples in wealthier areas who can’t conceive.
In Liangshan, it emerged that all 10 of the infants were not kidnapped but were sold to the traffickers by their parents. Compounding the problem, all of the children were born to couples who already had children.
According to authorities, after news of the rescue reached Liangshan, not one of the parents of the 10 children contacted the police to claim their offspring. Police believe the parents feared that they would have to surrender the payments they received from the traffickers — a small fortune for these subsistence farmers — and were also concerned about having to pay the taxes and fines associated with having an extra child under the one-child policy.
The fines, called Social Support Payments, vary from region to region but are substantial. In some areas, parents will be fined two times their annual income, in other regions up to 10 times their annual income. In 2012, the Chinese government took in more than $2 billion in Social Support Payments, with Sichuan province alone accounting for close to $400 million.
In the case of the Liangshan children, police have said there is nothing they can do. With the parents refusing to claim the children, and child-care institutions unwilling to house young babies, for now, at least, the children will stay with the families who bought them.
One of the traffickers admitted to having bought children from poor areas of Sichuan for 20,000 to 30,000 yuan ($3,200-4,800) and selling them in Jiangsu and Shandong provinces for around 40,000 to 50,000 ($6,400-8000).
Social welfare houses refused to take the children, because they can only claim financial support for orphans and abandoned children. The police were forced to leave the babies with their new families.
One of the officers said: “These children have nowhere to go and can only stay with their adopting families. It seems they are better off there than with their birth families or the welfare houses. This is most embarrassing.”