A bust of four human trafficking groups in China saved 382 babies, according to a statement by the state media Friday. At least 1,094 people have been arrested by Chinese authorities on charges related to the illegal sale or purchase of infants.
The children have been placed in orphanages across the country. Authorities have not commented on a reunion plan for the children and their families.
The sting operation, led by the Chinese Public Security Ministry, began a year ago when authorities became aware of four human trafficking websites operating under an adoption alias. Related online communication like blogs and chat rooms were also involved. “China’s Orphan Network” and “Chinese Adoption Home” are two of the websites accused.
Human trafficking in China has been an unexpected cause of the “family planning policy,” better known as the “one child policy,” initiated in China to suppress economic and environmental problems. The policy was meant to alleviate pressures brought on the country by an inflated population.
Proponents of the policy believe it helped push China’s continuing economic growth. It also lowered the fatality of women due to pregnancy-related complications. The policy, in fact, does not limit every Chinese family to one child. There are many exemptions to the rule.
Rural families are allowed two children if the first was female or disabled. The 55 ethnic minorities of China are completely excluded from the policy. Multiple births, such as twins, qualify as an exemption. A further relaxation of the policy in 2013 made it possible for a couple to have a second child given that one parent was an only child.
Criticism of the policy warned against serious social consequences. Of these predicted consequences was human trafficking that, without the recent bust, would have ruined or even ended the lives of 382 Chinese babies. The human trafficking industry is fueled by greedy, black market entrepreneurs but also by people who seem completely ordinary.
Families who are unable to have their own children often knowingly take part in the illegal purchasing of babies from these human trafficking organizations. The groups also prey on families over-burdened by many children, or children of unwanted gender. They pay these families handsomely for babies who are too expensive, or in some cases, undesirable.
In traditional Chinese culture, males carry on the family name and are responsible for their parents’ well being in old age. This has created a bias for baby boys over girls and introduced both genders into the human trafficking nightmare. Adults without children create a demand for baby boys, while parents with girls are supplying product.
This cultural bias, made more prevalent by the “family planning policy,” has led to widespread abortion of female fetuses and infanticide of female babies. The United Nations Development Programme predicts that by 2020, 30 million more men than women will survive to adulthood. This imbalance encourages the human trafficking in China of young women into forced marriages.
The recent bust which saved 382 children is an effort by the Chinese government to crack down on human trafficking. In 2013, China was downgraded by the U.S. State Department from Tier two Watch List to Tier Three, the lowest possible ranking for human trafficking “grades.” Authorities hope to upgrade this status in the coming years by implementing closer observation of human trafficking groups and intensified punishments for those involved.
By Erin P. Friar