Wednesday, October 03, 2007

China’s Stolen Children

The kidnapping of a child ranks up there with many parents’ worst imaginable nightmare. That’s why I found this recent piece by the Guardian Observer Magazine so haunting, days after I read it.

“The events of this summer mean that every one of us will have considered, for a
moment at least, the horror of having a child snatched. The emotions
parents must endure aren’t hard to imagine: the creeping numbness of
realization; the shock turning to panic as the minutes tick by; the helpless
reliance on the goodwill of others, particularly the police. In Europe,
the cases of child kidnapping are sporadic. In China, however, they are
increasingly common. Around 190 children are snatched every day – stolen
from their beds and the streets. This is more than double the average
number of abductions recorded in England and Wales over a whole year. If
190 people were dying every day from the same illness, you’d call it an
epidemic. And that’s exactly what it is, except nobody really wants to
talk about it.”

The article makes the case that the Chinese government is reluctant to publicly discuss the issue, because they’d then have to discuss the possible underlying reasons for the rash of kidnappings, particularly China’s one-child policy. I’ll leave any politics underpinning the reasons for child snatching for elsewhere, because I think it’s too easy to generalize about a link between child trafficking and China’s one-child policy. I also think there is a temptation sometimes within the international adoption community to limit the possibility of child trafficking in China to domestic adoptions. Rather, I’d like to focus on the kidnapping victims and their families and the human cost of trafficking for adoption.

The article highlights one family whose son, Chen Jie, was taken by a neighbor while playing at his grandmother’s vegetable stall in Sichuan. The neighbor said he would take Chen Jie to his mother, but that was the last time they saw him. Even though the neighbor said that he sold the child and was questioned by police, he was let go.

Li, Chen Jie’s mother, has contemplated suicide many times. The thought of her son coming back some day to find he has lost her is what stops her. Similarly, Li and her husband Lung are staying together so that their son doesn’t return to a broken family. The quote I can’t get out of my mind is from Chen Jie’s grandmother:

I had a dream that my grandson came back,’ she says. ‘I held him in my arms and
he asked me, “Grandma, are you tired?” I replied that I was not tired at all
when holding my grandson. I was so happy that he finally came back.’ And then,
with sorrow, back to the terrible reality. ‘Then,’ she says, ‘I woke up.’

The Chen family has attempted multiple avenues to find their missing son, including putting up forbidden missing child posters and speaking to the media. Thus, they are featured in a new British documentary.

The same team that produced the controversial documentary, the Dying Rooms, has produced another documentary titled, “China’s Stolen Children” which investigates the trafficking of thousands of Chinese children every year. Like the first documentary, China’s Stolen Children is not without controversy. The article refers to the threat of government reprisals and punishment. The Chinese Embassy in London has threatened an injunction to stop the airing of the documentary. One interviewee whose son was stolen was reported to have been visited by the secret police the day after his interview. As a result, he backed out of the project.

The filmmakers also interviewed traffickers who describe stealing children sleeping in their beds. One trafficker says, “I think there must be something wrong with treating children as goods, but I can’t figure out what it is.” The documentary reveals that this trafficker sold his own son, a fact which is later revealed to his other grieving son.

There is a dispute about the number of children trafficked in China each year. According to Save the Children, Chinese officials from the Ministry of Public Seucrity put total numbers at about 2,500. The UN’s Palermo Protocol of 2000 defines trafficking as including “the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability”. This definition would increase the number of children considered trafficked in the United States as well. The definition in Article 240 of the Criminal Law of the PRC is narrower and does not include abduction without being sold. Moreover, the Guardian Observer article indicates that in China it is not necessarily illegal to buy a child insofar as efforts to restore a child may not be made in cases where the child is being brought up well. Again, we should be reminded that maintaining the status quo happens in cases of international adoption, even in cases of the child having been kidnapped outright.

“China’s Stolen Children” airs on Channel 4 on October 8 at 9 p.m. in the U.K.


“Has Anyone Seen Our Child?”, The Observer Magazine, September 23, 2007

Trailer for “China’s Stolen Children, True Vision TV

“Chinese Bid to Stop ‘Kids for Sale’ Film,” TimesOnline, September 23, 2007

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