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January 27, 2016

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Poverty relief is key in child-trafficking fight

The rescue of 15 infants from a 78-member child-trafficking gang earlier this month has drawn attention to poverty and lack of legal awareness in the country’s poorest regions.

The 15 infants, with the youngest just four days old, were mostly from the Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Liangshan in southwest China’s Sichuan Province. They were waiting to be sold some 2,000 kilometers away from their homes, according to sources with the Sichuan police.

Blood samples of the 15 infants have been taken in order to help find their parents through a national DNA database.

Most were sold voluntarily by their parents, according to Chen Shiqu, director of the anti-human trafficking office under the Ministry of Public Security. Chen said the sales had been motivated by poverty.

In 2013, Liangshan had 13.5 percent of its population, or around 600,000 people, living below the national poverty line (an annual income of 2,736 yuan, or US$415).

Children are not commodities, and exchanging them for money is illegal, but couples living in remote areas are just “too poor and too numb” to comprehend the law, Chen said.

A police investigation showed that parents could get 20,000 yuan selling a baby boy, two to three times the annual income of a local family. Boys were sold for 50,000 to 60,000 yuan, while girls were sold for between 20,000 and 30,000 yuan.

In a joint operation launched by Sichuan and Shandong police, a couple were found to have traveled frequently from Liangshan to Linyi in east China’s Shandong Province with infants, returning empty-handed.

Police found that the woman purchased infants from parents in poor villages and recruited other women, who pretended to be mothers, to take babies to Linyi by train.

A police investigation found the husband was responsible for seeking buyers in Linyi. He developed a sophisticated network of liaisons in several districts and counties in the coastal province. The couple even arranged for pregnant women to deliver their babies at buyers’ homes.

“The gang members were managed in an organized way and had different duties, including trafficking infants, transportation and seeking buyers,” a police officer said.

Ignorance of the law also contributed to the trade.

“Hardly anyone knew selling their own child was illegal. They believed they were doing the infants a favor by sending them to grow up in a better environment,” a local official said.

The Sichuan government has introduced a number of policies in a bid to lift people out of poverty. Highways connecting mountainous Liangshan and neighboring cities are being built, paving the way for development.

About 15,000 public servants, including many leaders, have been sent to villages to do poverty-relief work and make sure they know the law, while money is being spent to improve education and medical services.

The per capita net annual income for rural residents in Liangshan rose to 8,264 yuan in 2014, up 12.3 percent from the previous year.

Under an amendment to China’s Criminal Law, passed on November 1, people who buy trafficked women and children face criminal prosecution.


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