A Chinese orphanage director and nine other people have been sentenced to prison for buying and selling scores of infants who were adopted by foreign parents, according to a government announcement yesterday.
Another 22 officials were fired in the case in the southern city of Hengyang in Hunan Province, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Police said the traffickers bought babies that had been abducted from their families and sold them to welfare homes in Hengyang for 3,200 yuan to 4,300 yuan (US$400-US$540) each, according to the report.
"The social welfare homes then had the infants adopted by foreigners who made donations," the report said.
It didn't give the nationalities of adoptive parents or say whether they were considered to have bought the babies.
The group carried on the trade from 2002 to last year, and trafficked 78 babies last year alone, Xinhua said.
Employees who answered the phone at the Qidong County People's Court, where the case was tried, said they couldn't give any other details or say whether authorities were trying to track down babies abroad. They wouldn't give their names.
Phone calls to the local prosecutor's office and the criminal division of the police department weren't answered.
China has a thriving black market in babies, often girls, who are abducted or bought from poor families or unwed mothers and sold to parents who want another child, a servant or a future bride for a son.
People involved with the adoption of Chinese children by foreigners have long worried that parents might unknowingly receive children who were abducted or stolen from their families.
They worry that accusations of baby trafficking could lead officials to limit or stop the process that has given homes to thousands of Chinese children who might otherwise grow up in orphanages.
Foreign parents often pay thousands of dollars in fees or donations to adoption agencies or orphanages.
Earlier reports said baby girls bought by orphanages in Hengyang ranged in age from a few days to several months and were abducted from families in neighboring Guangdong Province.
In the case in Hengyang, Chen Ming, director of the Hengdong Social Welfare Home, was sentenced on Friday to one year in prison, Xinhua said. It said Chen is a fugitive.
Convicted baby traffickers Liang Guihong, Duan Meilin and Dai Chao were sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined 50,000 yuan (US$6,000) each, the report said.
Six accomplices received sentences ranging from three to 13 years, Xinhua said.
Among the officials dismissed for negligence were Deng Guang-yang and Zhou Liqun, directors of the Hengyang and Hengdong County civil affairs bureaus, Xinhua said. It said directors of the local welfare homes were also dismissed.
In August, two gang leaders were sentenced to death by a court in the southern province of Fujian for buying 82 children from their parents and selling them to families in Singapore.