Missing children in China: The search goes on

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Lei handing out flyers and photographs of his missing son in the film Lost and Love. (Source: China Lion film distribution)
Lei handing out flyers and photographs of his missing son in the film Lost and Love. (Source: China Lion film distribution)

In China, it is estimated that 200,000 children go missing every year. Among those, only 200 (0.1%) of them are found. Even with China’s huge population of 1.3 billion people, that is a shockingly large proportion. The result is 199,800 torn families with the fate of their child unknown.

Take the 2015 Chinese-Hong Kong drama film “Lost and Love” as an example. The film follows a man, Lei Zekuan, who begins a journey to search for his lost son. On his journey, he traveled across China and spent all his savings in the process of spreading word about his missing son. Despite being ignored, treated as suspicious, being beaten, sworn at and nearly killed, he pressed on.

Lei handing out flyers and photographs of his missing son in the film Lost and Love. (Source: China Lion film distribution)
Lei handing out flyers and photographs of his missing son in the film Lost and Love. (Source: China Lion film distribution)

While victims of injustice are often met with sympathy and support from the New Zealand community, victims of injustice are often treated as suspicious troublemakers in China.

Last year, the Washington post published an article about Cheng Zhu, whose 5-year-old daughter had been abducted. While searching for his daughter, Cheng gathered other families whose children have also been abducted. In doing so, Chinese authorities regarded Cheng as a nuisance and a disruption to “social stability.”

He also suggested that the police would cover up for those who buy children, by providing them with fake identification documents.

However pressure from social media users in China have driven for the establishment of DNA matching databases to help locate loved ones.

Fortunately, Cheng was able to reunite with his daughter 9 years later.

However, like many other parents, the protagonist of “Lost and Love” had no such luck. He never did end up finding his child.

The film was, in fact, based on a true story.

The main character’s journey is similar to that of numerous parents whose efforts are only met with disappointment. Many parents have also reported to experience immense guilt and pain if they were to resume their daily lives. In many cases, the search and the wait will go on indefinitely.

Abduction: How is it done?

Children can be abducted the moment the parent lets their guard down. However many children are snatched away forcefully from their parents.

In the footage below, a father wearing a blue T-shirt takes his son out for a walk.

A father (blue shirt) takes his son out for a walk. (Source: Weibo)
A father (blue shirt) takes his son out for a walk. (Source: Weibo)

Suddenly, a strange woman appeared from behind him and tried to grab the child.

Suddenly, a strange woman appeared from behind him and tried to grab the child. (Source: Weibo)
Suddenly, a strange woman appeared from behind him and tried to grab the child. (Source: Weibo)

The father immediately detected something wrong and placed his arms around his son.

As he forcefully pulled onto his own son, the unthinkable happened.

Surrounding pedestrians all rushed towards him. You would expect them to help the father but they are, in fact, all traffickers.

Pedestrians all rushed towards him. You would expect them to help the father but they are, in fact, all traffickers. (Source: Weibo)
Pedestrians all rushed towards him. You would expect them to help the father but they are, in fact, all traffickers. (Source: Weibo)

The man in the white shirt began punching the father who fell to the ground. Ironically, the traffickers yelled, “Help! The man is trying to steal my child!”

They framed the father as the kidnapper to prevent spectators from assisting the father.  (Source: Weibo)
They framed the father as the kidnapper to prevent spectators from assisting the father.  (Source: Weibo)

They framed the father as the kidnapper to prevent spectators from assisting the father.

The child is then thrown into a blue car which drove off. The father can only watch helplessly as his child is taken from him.

The child is then thrown into a blue car which drove off. The father can only watch helplessly as his child is taken from him. (Source: Weibo)
The child is then thrown into a blue car which drove off. The father can only watch helplessly as his child is taken from him. (Source: Weibo)

This is actually a very common strategy among traffickers.

Chinese actress Tao Liu once starred in a show. There was one scene that depicts how traffickers manipulate parents and surrounding onlookers and successfully kidnap the child.

Like the film “Lost and Love,” this show was also based on a true story.

The abductor first appeared as a kind-hearted elderly woman who empathised with Liu by offering to help carry Liu’s child.

The elderly woman (left) held Liu's child for Liu (right). (Source: Datang productions)
The elderly woman (left) held Liu’s child for Liu (right). (Source: Datang productions)

Liu, whose arms are aching from the weight of her child, agreed.

As Liu queued up in line to board the train, the elderly woman wandered off with the child.

Liu chased after her and tried to grab hold of her own child. But a man stopped her.

Liu wrestling with the elderly woman who shouted that the boy was her grandchild. (Source: Datang productions)
Liu wrestling with the elderly woman who shouted that the boy was her grandchild. (Source: Datang productions)

The man posed as the child’s father while the elderly woman acted like the child’s grandmother. He began yelling at Liu as if she has cheated on him.

They disguised the abduction as a family dispute. With Liu framed as a cheating wife, onlookers all stopped to help the supposed ‘father’ secure his grip of the child while Liu screamed.

Liu was framed as a cheating wife. (Source: Datang productions).
Liu was framed as a cheating wife. (Source: Datang productions).

So Liu, too, remained powerless as the two abductors wrestled her child out of her grip and disappeared into a van.

With manpower and an element of drama, the abductors usually succeed with their kidnapping.

That places immense pressure on parents with young children in China with the constant fear of becoming a victim of human trafficking.

Traffickers who exploit the curious nature of kids.

A few years ago, YouTube user Joey Salads conducted a social experiment on kids. Joey posed as a stranger with a puppy who successfully led kids away from their parents who are supervising them from a distance.

Despite warnings of ‘stranger danger,’ kids are easily captivated by cute puppies and easily agreed to see more puppies with the stranger.

In the experiment, parents were often deceived by a false sense of security. As parents, we frequently warn our kids against talking to strangers. But in reality, it only takes a few words for a strange man to befriend them.

The frightening truth is that it only takes a brief moment to earn a child’s trust and kidnap them.

In a similar experiment, Joey also successfully staged a kidnapping with candy.

Similar experiments have also been conducted in China. Among 50 kids, 42 were successfully abducted in the experiment.

Similar experiments have also been conducted in China. Among 50 kids, 42 were successfully abducted in the experiment. (Source: Jiangxi local news)
Similar experiments have also been conducted in China. Among 50 kids, 42 were successfully abducted in the experiment. (Source: Jiangxi local news)

Compared to New Zealand’s low incidence of abductions, China’s numbers are extremely concerning.

Strategic abductions

Many bloggers on China’s social platforms have shared their personal encounters with abductors.

Abducted from home: blogger Juzi (橘子)

“Last Sunday, I was home with my son. He was playing with Lego at the dining table while I fell asleep on the couch.”

“The dining room is close to our front door. I woke up to a man speaking. Still in a daze, I heard a man say, ‘Hello son. We’re delivering KFC.’ Then the door banged shut.”

“My front door usually opens without noise. I was instantly alert and rushed out. My son was outside the elevator. I could only make out a man’s arm as the elevator door began closing. He made to grab my son as I yelled, ‘Where are you going, son?’ ”

“I ran towards my son and hoisted him into my arms, as the elevator closed behind the man.”

“Afterwards, my son told me that he had heard someone knocking on the door. He opened the door to a man from KFC who claimed to be delivering a family bucket when I had not ordered anything from KFC. The man then claimed to have left the bucket in his car and asked my son to retrieve it with him.”

“Come to think of it, I’m glad that I stopped him in time. Otherwise it really would have been a tragedy.”

A close call at the playground, from blogger Duan bao

My 9-month-old son was playing at a playground by our apartment. He was sitting on a toy truck, surrounded by a kids and their grandparents from our neighborhood.

Suddenly a middle aged woman appeared and began to play with my son, who giggled enthusiastically.

Suddenly a middle aged woman appeared and began to play with my son. (Source: Evoke.ie)
Suddenly a middle aged woman appeared and began to play with my son. (Source: Evoke.ie)

Then she made to hold my son. To which, I said, “No, he’s quite shy.”

But she went ahead and lifted my son into her arms. My son didn’t resist either. She walked away from the crowds, muttering ‘Let’s go see that big car!’

I stopped her immediately and pulled my son into my arms.

The pattern

Usually people let their guard down around middle-aged or the elderly. But the majority of abductors fall within this age group because they cunningly deceive the public. With the element of surprise, they can usually kidnap kids in a relatively short time, in utmost calmness, before you get a chance to react.

Another incident took place when a parent was crossing the road with her daughter. The little girl was lagging slightly behind her mother and was snatched away by 2 women. The act was caught on surveillance cameras.

Abducted from the incubator

Chinese media has also reported cases of abducted infants within days of birth. Men in white lab coats, posing as hospital staff, have been reported to visit hospital wards. They claimed that they needed to vaccinate infants in a separate room but never returned.

Men in white lab coats, posing as hospital staff, have been reported to visit hospital wards. (Source: Wiki Images/ Chris Horry).
Men in white lab coats, posing as hospital staff, have been reported to visit hospital wards. (Source: Wiki Images/ Chris Horry).

Since then, parents have been recommended to supervise their babies continuously.

Under the guise of family dispute

Blogger Qi baobao was shopping with her child at a market in China when a strange man suddenly slapped her and yelled, “Our child is sick. Why did you bring him out?”

“An elderly woman next to him picked up my son from the pram. In a very loud voice, she said that he has to go to the doctors. Onlookers spared a few glance at us and sped past, leaving us to our family drama.”

Then the elderly woman shoved my son into a car behind him and took off. I chased after them, yelling for my son. Thankfully, they were caught in traffic and many stall holders rushed out to stop the car.

A heart-breaking reunion

Blogger Taotao mama (Taotao’s mother) was doing her laundry upstairs while her child played downstairs. She saw a stranger approach her daughter and immediately rushed down the stairs. But her daughter had vanished by the time she got there.

Back then her child was 5 years old. Her mother combed through the streets in China for 10 years to search for her daughter. Eventually she found her daughter on the streets. Her legs had been amputated and her tongue has been cut.

This is one of the most heart breaking stories on the net. So why would anyone ever have the potential for such cruelty? The answer is money. Traffickers have a record of beating children to the point where they become disabled, so that they become beggars on the streets and ‘earn’ money for them.

Supply and demand: The market of human trafficking

These tragedies lead to the ultimate question: What is the driving force of human trafficking?

In the Chinese reality show ‘Glass Man,” founder of Baobeihuijia (Baby Come Home), Baoyan Zhang, said that after the kids have been abducted, those who purchase and raise them should not be regarded as foster parents.

“They are simply consumers. They are a very selfish group of people. Without them, there would not be traffickers. They are at the core of human trafficking and kidnapping.” (Source: YouTube)
“They are simply consumers. They are a very selfish group of people. Without them, there would not be traffickers. They are at the core of human trafficking and kidnapping.” (Source: YouTube)

“They are simply consumers. They are a very selfish group of people. Without them, there would not be traffickers. They are at the core of human trafficking and kidnapping.”

As at 2017, Zhang said that they have assisted 2124 children reunite with their parents.

The chats below include several requests from the ‘consumers’ of human trafficking. Either they do not care, or do not know that their purchase of a child is costing other families a lifetime of grief, pain and guilty suffering.

Much like a trading platform, the chat includes both ‘consumers’ and ‘sellers’ whose regard of human lives is equivalent to how we would often regard objects on say, Trade Me.

 

The first message goes, “A boy from Urumqi is nearly two months old. Enquire privately if interested.”
The first message goes, “A boy from Urumqi is nearly two months old. Enquire privately if interested.”

The first message goes, “A boy from Urumqi is nearly two months old. Enquire privately if interested.”

Offers also include “Are there older female babies?” and “Any female babies to give away?”

This chat reveals a private exchange between two members of the group. One said, “This is horrifying. There is a woman in the chat who has brought 3 kids within 6 months, and continues to do so. Where have they gone? No one knows.”

The other user replied, “This is human trafficking.”

Many parents have written letters to Baoyan Zhang’s organisation ‘Baby Come home.’ In those letters, parents have voiced a sense of guilt towards their children. To relieve their suffering and their guilt, these parents will continue to search for their kids until they find an answer.

To relieve their suffering and their guilt, these parents will continue to search for their kids until they find an answer. (Source: YouTube).
To relieve their suffering and their guilt, these parents will continue to search for their kids until they find an answer. (Source: YouTube).

She added that parents who have lost their kids will never find inner peace. Without knowing what their children are going through, parents cannot truly settle down.

“The search for a missing child is no easy job. Many parents can no longer recognise their kids after they have grown older. Even if they come face to face with each other, they will not recognise them as their child.”

As for the kid, they will no longer remember what their parents look like. They will forget their blood-related family. That is the utmost tragedy: seeing them, but not knowing them.

The fate of the abducted

In some areas of China, there is still a favouritism for males over females. That gives rise to a higher demand for boys, who get adopted by the downstream buyers of human trafficking.

Girls, on the other hand, are typically forced into sex trade. Children who cannot be sold are often beaten or amputated, like the girl reported by blogger Taotao’s mother. They become beggars who earn money by gaining sympathy from others. The money then goes into the pockets of the cruel traffickers.

Therefore, very few victims of human trafficking grow up safety and reach adulthood.

An interview with human traffickers

A reporter in China once interviewed a human trafficker.

Why are you selling children?

“It’s easy money. And it’s very quick.”

Do you know that you are, in fact, committing a crime?

“Isn’t it just a kid? They can just have another one!”

How many times have you engaged in the practice of illegal human trafficking? How many have you abducted at a time?

“I can’t remember. I sell a few every month. I think the maximum had been 3 or 4 kids at once. I can’t remember now.”

Where do the kids end up?

“All over the country. I’m only responsible for abductions. There are people solely responsible for selling. The higher ups won’t let me know where the kids end up, in case the police finds them.”

How do you abduct kids?

“If they’re obedient we’ll just distract and lead them away. If they’re smart, we’ll snatch them. If they don’t listen, we’ll knock them out first. We’ll do it the moment the parent gets distracted.”

Have you considered the fate of the kids?

“I don’t know where they’ll end up. My job is to kidnap them. It doesn’t matter whether they end up in rural or urban areas. Wherever the buyer is, that’s where they will end up.”

Are there specific kids you target?

“We take note of those who look healthy, who dress nicely, because quality guarantees a good price. It doesn’t matter if the kid’s from a rich family, because they aren’t necessarily valued at a higher price.”

In the process of abducting children, have you ever murdered any of them?

The trafficker paused, then nodded.

“One baby cried very loudly. The other trafficker was scared of attracting attention, so tossed the baby into a river. That was his doing, not mine!”

That was a brief insight from the perspective of a human trafficker.

Future outlook

It is clear that we cannot turn a blind eye to human trafficking. Even though abductions are quite rare in New Zealand, with the majority of kidnappings being from relatives or family members, it pays to be aware of suspicious behaviors and to educate our children about them.

However, social experiments shows us that that parental supervision may be the most effective way to ensuring the safety of younger kids.

Volunteers of ‘Baby come home’ said that at their current rate, it will take more than a century to find all the kids who have been kidnapped.

“But we will persevere. We will follow leads online, take note of photographs and posters of missing children, and report any cases of trafficking we find. The aim is to stop future cases from reoccurring.”

 

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