Babies for sale: The scandal of China’s brutal single child policy
Lying on a spartan bed, feeding her tiny daughter from a bottle, teenager Wai Ling describes her heartbreaking dilemma.
Under China’s strict birth-control laws, Wai Ling, 19, and her boyfriend, 21, are too young to get married – and without being married they can’t register their daughter’s birth.
They could bribe a state official to turn a blind eye, but that would cost far more than they could ever afford – half a year’s salary of £1,300.
Sickening trade: A boy like this is worth £1,200 to China’s child snatchers
The alternative of a court appearance and swingeing fine for having an illegal child would be equally ruinous – so Wai Ling feels she has little choice but to sell her newborn baby to a child trafficker.
Even the thought of handing over her baby causes her unbearable pain. “Every mother assumes she will be with her child for ever,” she cries plaintively.
“But soon she will be growing up in another family. As a mother, I really want to watch her grow every day with me. But I know that’s not possible.”
Twelve years ago, Kate Blewitt and Brian Wood’s award-winning documentary The Dying Rooms caused international outrage with its shocking footage of malnourished Chinese babies being left to die of starvation in state-run orphanages.
Now the film-makers have returned to China to find out what effect the country’s capitalist explosion is having on Beijing’s brutal and unbending Single Child Policy. Wai Ling’s harrowing story is revealed in their special Dispatches programme, China’s Stolen Babies, which reveals a huge and expanding black market for the sale of children and teenagers.
The Channel 4 documentary, secretly filmed by director Jezza Neumann, discovered that Chinese couples, hampered by the one-child rule, buy and sell babies in order to guarantee a male child to look after them in old age or a bride for their son.
Chen Jie’s desperate parents
The demand is so high that child traffickers unable to find enough willing parties have resorted to snatching youngsters off the streets – and 70,000 disappear each year.
“Wai Ling and her boyfriend were so lovely and really intelligent,” said Mr Neumann. “It’s tragic. They had to give up their child because they can’t possibly afford the fine.”
The Single Child Policy, described by Save The Children as a ‘mass, live experiment in family life which is unique in the history of the world’, was introduced in 1979 as a bold attempt to stem China’s population growth.
But, instead of becoming a solution, it has created a bigger problem.
Couples are so desperate for a male child to look after them in old age that an estimated 40million girl babies have been aborted.
The result is a hugely skewed population in which there is a massive shortage of women of marriageable age.
“People are buying boys to guarantee they have a son to look after them in old age,” added Mr Neumann. “It is easier than selective abortion.
“Richer families are buying young girls to marry their sons and save the dowries that go with marriage. They buy the child, pay the backhander to officials and bring up the child until she is ten when she is old enough to work and earn back the money they have invested in her. Then at 20 they marry her to their son.”
He continued: “Older girls are sold to become instant wives. Once they have been sold it is very hard to get them back. They are taken to completely different provinces, miles away. There is no way for their families to trace them and they can’t afford the fare to get back home.
“They may be in better environments and just accept they are going to be abused. But a detective we interviewed in the programme told us about some of the women that he had rescued.
“They were beaten up by their husbands. The fear of God was put in them. They were told that if they left, they were dead.”
One of the most haunting stories in the film, narrated by actor Ben Kingsley, is that of the Chens whose only son, five-year-old Chen Jie, disappeared after helping his grandmother on her vegetable stall at the local market.
He was being taken home by a neighbour, Zhang, who is believed to have sold him. The going price for a blackmarket boy is around £650 – six months’ wages for an average Chinese worker.
Chen Jie’s father Chen Lung, a plasterer who lives with his wife Li in a tiny flat in the migrant workers’ ghetto of Kunming, Yunnan province, has spent the past 18 months searching for him.
The couple have notified police, joined a support organisation made up of other parents of missing children, broken the law to plaster ‘missing’ posters on lampposts, paid £40 to include his picture in a set of poker cards which feature missing children and hired a private detective.
“Someone who has never lost their child will never understand this kind of pain,” Chen Jie’s mother said, tears streaming down her face.
“It is like a knife through my heart. When I’m with other people, I can stay composed and calm. But on my own, I just can’t stop thinking about it.
“When it’s raining, I wonder if he is getting wet. When it’s cold, I wonder if he is shivering. I don’t know how he is feeling. Is he calling someone else Mummy and Daddy? Is he dreaming of us? I used to joke when he was naughty that I’d send him away or sell him. Now that he’s gone, he probably thinks that I meant it. He’ll be saying, “Mummy, I’ll be good, I’ll be good.”
His father added: “It’s torture. We don’t know if our child is dead or alive. Is he being fed, is he being beaten, is he being looked after, is he at school?”
Mr Neumann, who has a son the same age as Chen Jie, said he found the interview particularly harrowing. “Their life must have been all about Chen Jie in the same way as my life revolves around my son Michael.”
Only one in 20 parents from the Chen’s support group have ever found their children. One such child was Jong Jang, who was kidnapped outside his house when he was just four. He was finally rescued after his father and other parents from the group went to
Beijing and lobbied the Ministry of Public Security.
The Beijing police used traffickers’ mobile phone records to trace the couple who had taken Jong Jang to Guandong province, 800
miles away. But Jong Jang’s father is now paying the price. He has been ordered to report to his local police station daily – to ensure
he doesn’t make any other unauthorised ‘protests’.
In Britain, it is illegal to buy or sell a child. But in China it is against the law only to abandon, steal or sell a child – not to buy one.
Though traffickers do sell children, many of them do not think they are doing anything wrong.
Wang Lee started trading in people in 1985 when he was offered money for his girlfriend. After his wife died, he sold his toddler son.
“There’s plenty of demand everywhere,” he said. “You can sell anywhere, anytime. Demand isn’t the problem. The problem is supply.
“When I started you could hook eight out of ten girls, just by having sex with them. It was easy to trick them. Now I’m not selling
women so much, mainly just children. If it’s a pretty girl then maybe I can get £500 or £600.
“But girls who are ugly, you can’t give them away. A boy – goodlooking, a few months old – £700 to £800. But a one or two-year-old
boy can fetch an even higher price: £1,100 to £1,200. If the boy’s cute and the buyer is rich, maybe more. It’s all about negotiation.”
He insists he does not get involved in trading, but acts only as an agent between buyers and sellers. “I just introduce people. They do
the buying and selling. I don’t have any other skills and I know how to do this so I’ll continue.
“But I’m not sure how long I can carry on. That depends on when the Government solves this issue. I think there must be something wrong with treating children as goods. But I can’t figure out what it is.”
The trafficker’s attitude, of course, is an uncanny fusion of the callous expedience of the old Communist regime, which ignores human misery in favour of grand social experiments, and the new, capitalist culture of modern China.
“People are being encouraged to make money and, of course, they are going to do it any way they can,” Mr Neumann said. “While some build factories or sell goods to the newly wealthy, others will sell children, rob or cheat people.”
Meanwhile Beijing has pledged to continue its Single Child Policy at least until 2010.
And while Chinese state officials can be bribed to officially register stolen children, the black market in human life will continue.
“That’s the thing the Government is most guilty of – allowing parents who have bought children to register them,” explained Mr Neumann. “Yet they remain so sensitive to criticism that we had to pose as tourists to film undercover, move hotels every three days and change SIM cards after every phone call.
“Had we been caught, our Chinese crew faced eight to ten years in jail.”
He added: “The timing of the film is very interesting because of the comparisons that can be made with the case of Madeleine McCann,” he added.
“The difference between the McCanns and the Chens is that nobody cares. We always like to think that all children are equal and that a little boy in China has no less right to be cared about than a little boy in England or a girl in Portugal.
“All credit to the McCanns for getting so much newspaper and television coverage to help in the hunt for their daughter. But what a shame that all the publicity Chen Jie gets is the remains of an A4 poster crumpled up in a puddle somewhere.”
[6Oct07, By CLAUDIA JOSEPH, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=486083&in_page_id=1811]