Sun, Sep 30, 2007 - Page 17 News List

Where's our child?

In China, 190 children are stolen every day to full the demand for sons. Brokenhearted parents trying to find their loved ones face retaliation from traffickers and government intransigence

By Clare Dwyer Hogg  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

International Attention

The production team behind the Emmy Award-winning documentary The Dying Rooms, which in 1995 uncovered the neglect of abandoned children in Chinese state-run orphanages, went back to China this year. The idea behind the first documentary was that China's One Child Policy, the population stabilizer, had led to the abandonment of girls - this, and their subsequent abuse in some cases, was recorded as tragic confirmation. More than 10 years later, the team - this time headed by debut director Jezza Neumann - went back to investigate another consequence of the One Child Policy: the tens of thousands of Chinese children being trafficked every year.

Needless to say, if you're making a documentary about child abduction and looking for the abductors, the need for undercover filming is paramount. SIM cards were changed after every call; the production team met to discuss plans in locations that had plenty of exits; they all arrived and left from different directions.

It's hard to render yourself unnoticeable as a Westerner with a camera in China, but he and his team tried to move through the country unseen. The Chinese authorities, loath to let such stories out, are extremely vigilant, and getting people to talk about their experiences of having a child stolen is virtually impossible. The air hangs thick with the threat of official reprisals and punishment. One potential interviewee whose son was stolen was visited by the secret police the day after a researcher had been to ask him questions. He backed out, too scared to commit to camera what he felt, too frightened to enlist the help of outsiders in such a close-knit community, where anything unusual gets back to officials - apart from, it would seem, the identity of kidnappers.

The Chens knew the danger, too, but, thirsty for help, they agreed. It's not that the Chinese government doesn't report on child trafficking: there is coverage of rescue successes and assurances that the government is doing all it can to combat the criminals. The stories are often, however, conspicuously free from statistics or analysis. Save the Children reports that last year Chinese officials from the Ministry of Public Security put overall trafficking figures (for women and children) at 2,500. This is much lower than NGOs estimate, but it's all about semantics. International law - the UN's Palermo Protocol of 2000 - defines trafficking not only by the use of force or manipulation, but also as "the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability." A child is any person under the age of 18. The Chinese government is currently drafting a National Plan of Action against Trafficking but, as it stands, the Chinese definition is much narrower. Article 240 of the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China makes illegal the abduction of women and children for the purpose of selling. There is no clause for abduction without being sold. And currently, if you are abducted at 14 in China, you are an adult, and not part of the statistics.

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