Booming Chinese Black
Market In Stolen Babies

By Lynne O'Donnell in Beijing

At the darkest hour of the night, Wang Yijun, an itinerant 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 son.
A gang of men wielding sticks burst into the room, smashed the light bulb, beat Wang and his wife senseless and made off with their baby.
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 rapidly.
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 booming.
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 bureau, 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 persuaded 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.

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