Child Abduction in China Feeds The Adoption Industry

By Amanda Lubit

October 10, 2013 /

Upon the news that the Chinese government has rescued 92 children from a kidnapping ring, there has been renewed international attention to the rise in human trafficking throughout China over the past few years. Some estimate that up to 70,000 children are abducted from their families annually, making this a problem of epidemic proportions. The majority of these children are sold for adoption, but others end up living in orphanages and on the streets, or are forced into labor and the sex trade.

Children can be sold for adoption for between $5,000 and $13,000, making child abduction a profitable and growing business in China. Once kidnapped, children may be sold to adoption agencies or directly to other Chinese families interested in having a son. With the country’s one-child policy and the high value placed on male children, many families would rather purchase a son than risk having a daughter naturally.

Exact numbers on the percentage of kidnapped children being sold for adoption remain unavailable. While the Chinese government keeps these statistics out of the public eye, countries that adopt large numbers of Chinese children, like the United States, do not press either for answers or further investigation into this serious problem.

Despite the lack of available data, the extent of this issue became more widely publicized in August of this year when Charlie Custer and Leia Li released their documentary Living with Dead Hearts online. According to Mr. Custer, “the statistics are terrifying, but they’re just statistics, especially for people outside China.” To illustrate the devastating effects of child abduction, filmmakers followed three sets of Chinese parents as they searched for their missing children. The resulting imagery shows the anguish families suffer as well as the miserable conditions children face following abduction.

Several barriers make solving this problem difficult. To begin with, children are often abducted from families that are poor and have little education. As a result, they have no resources to look for their children and are unaware of their legal rights under Chinese law.

Finding a kidnapped child takes a large investment of time and requires the cooperation of authorities. Since the chances of successfully locating these children are extremely slim, police often consider it a waste of time and resources to look for them. Recovering these children is further hampered by police officers and family planning officials that are involved with kidnappers and facilitate their operations.

This epidemic was further investigated on Sept 27th at the meeting of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. When Chinese delegates were asked if the government would legally prohibit all human trafficking including the sale of children, they responded by declining to answer.

This ongoing failure to make significant improvements was also noted by the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which placed China in the lowest ranking of countries worldwide.  According to the report, China was “deemed not to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards and is placed on Tier 3.”


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