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China makes new plans for tackling the trafficking of women and children

This week officials in China have reported breaking up two major gangs of child traffickers and freeing over 180 children.

The Public Security Ministry said in a statement that more than 800 suspects had been arrested in the operation which spanned across fifteen regions of the country, including Shandong, Henan, Hebei, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Investigations into the gangs’ activities began late last year after a group of people were caught attempting to sell babies in Henan. It’s believed one of the gangs was responsible for the trafficking of more than 100 children. China’s one-child policy is blamed as one reason for the demand in children, some of whom are kidnapped and sold for adoption, made possible by the country’s lax adoption laws.

Sometimes, children are taken into other countries, but mostly child-trafficking occurs within China, operated by well-organised criminal syndicates and local gangs. Government statistics recorded nearly 6,000 children as taken by traffickers in 2010, though the numbers could be much higher. Many babies or infants are snatched from poorer provinces and sold to prosperous families along the richer coastal regions.

But children aren’t always destined for adoption. Sometimes, they’re taken to use as household servants. Reports also suggest that some Chinese children are forced into prostitution or various forms of child labour, such as working in brick kilns and factories, begging and stealing. In April 2011, the government reported rescuing a number of Uighur children from forced begging and pick-pocketing rings.

Over the last few years, the Chinese government has stepped up efforts to combat the trafficking of women and children under Article 240 of China’s criminal code which prohibits “abducting and trafficking of women or children” and Article 358, which prohibits forced prostitution. In March 2012, the government released new data on a variety of women and child-related crimes, including illegal adoptions and crimes of abduction. The government is now working to draft a 2012 National Plan of Action for anti-trafficking efforts, which is expected to be released in December.

However, in its latest report on trafficking, the US state department makes it clear that tracking progress in China is difficult, particularly because reported data includes a number of crimes such as kidnapping and fraudulent adoptions, which are not included within the international definition of trafficking. And while the Chinese government is acknowledged to be making “significant efforts” between internal agencies for “combating trafficking throughout the country”, the US report concludes that minimal prevention efforts are being made by, for example, revising key legislation such as the one-child policy, labour and adoption laws. Nevertheless, China is still placed on the Tier 2 Watch List of countries who do not comply with international minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but are making efforts to meet them. And observers are waiting with keen interest to see the details of China’s new anti-trafficking plans at the end of this year.

Laurinda Luffman signature