- At the darkest hour of the night, Wang Yijun, an
Chinese coalminer, stumbled out of bed to investigate a loud banging on
the door of the hut he shared with his wife and their six-month-old
- A gang of men wielding sticks burst into the room,
the light bulb, beat Wang and his wife senseless and made off with their
- It was a pattern to be repeated often in Handan, a dismal
county in northern Hebei province where the major industry is coal but
the mostly bankrupt and dangerous mines are being closed down
- Between June 2000 and April last year, according to local
police, 22 babies were stolen in Handan, all of them snatched by a gang
that struck between midnight and 3am.
- In a country where families place a premium on boys and
most people are restricted to having one child to conform with draconian
population control measures, the market for stolen babies is
- Childless couples unwilling to grapple with the adoption
bureaucracy, rural families in need of more hands on the farm, couples
who have only daughters and yearn for a son " all are willing to pay
well for black market babies.
- The potential profits have created a huge clandestine
industry in which babies are stolen or, in some cases, bred for sale. Once
in the possession of brokers, the children change hands often, sometimes
seven or eight times, before they find a home.
- The well-organised Handan gang, led by Qian Changxiong
and comprising about 50 itinerant workers from the dirt-poor province of
Yunnan, preyed on their own kind, other migrants from the poverty belt
of the south west who had come north in search of work.
- As the Government closes bankrupt and inefficient mines
and increases the use of natural gas, migrant workers, who number more
than 200 million nationwide, are resorting to crime to make money.
- According to Qi Xiaobo, of the Handan county police
the gang members would patrol the migrant shanty towns during the day,
choosing their victims, and return at night to claim their booty with tools
and sticks and torches.
- The average rural income is 500 yuan (£42) a month,
but two of the babies had fetched 9,800 yuan and 12,000 yuan from families
desperate for sons, he said.
- "When we tracked down these two, the families that
had bought them had already run away. One of the families had to be
to give the baby back because they didn,t see that they had done anything
wrong, Mr Qi said.
- He said that 17 of the stolen Handan babies had been
found, although one had suffocated in transit.