A Stolen Son Awaits his Parents
Beijing police officer and his wife give a home to a peasant child kidnapped by a stranger. CHINA: CHILD SELLING
IT was Aug. 16, 1989, and a scorching sun had beat down on Beijing all day, turning the city's squat, gray-brick homes into ovens. South of the train station, residents of Flower Market Lane languished on stools and in worn, stone doorways, cooling off in an evening breeze.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
At about 9 p.m., a ragged peasant came up the narrow street. Squirming in his arms was a pale baby boy in patched shorts and a grimy blue shirt.
``How much will you sell him for?'' a woman called out from the crowd.
``Eight thousand yuan [$2,150],'' said the man with a Sichuan twang, showing off the boy of about seven months as people milled around. As the two haggled over his price, the baby wailed.
Snatched from a migrant couple at the Beijing Railway Station earlier that day, the dirty, barefoot child joined tens of thousands of abduction victims in China today. (See story, Page 1.)
Children are the most pitiful prey of China's ``people mongers,'' or ren fanzi, who trade in youths and women for huge profits. Sold in remote villages hundreds of miles from home, some change hands repeatedly over months or years.
Offspring of peasant migrants are especially at risk. Often born on the road, the children are trundled from town to town as their parents chase jobs. Of these, a million so-called ``black'' children, born in violation of China's one-child policy, are hidden from authorities by parents who fear fines.
Sleeping in train stations and bus depots, wayfaring children are more easily snared by ``people mongers.'' Some, mainly girls, are sold as slave labor to households or rural sweatshops, where they are subject to beatings and abuse.
Youngsters who are tracked down and rejoin their families may bear deep mental scars from the experience. Others may never know the loving embrace of their real parents.
The barefoot baby on Flower Lane was found by Beijing police before he was sold. But at this writing his parents have still not been located.
Zhao Xiting, a middle-aged officer at Beijing's Chongwenmen police station, was among those who rescued the baby.
``When the masses reported the situation on Flower Lane, we decided we'd better check it out,'' Mr. Zhao said in an interview. ``We wanted to get the whole story, so we brought them in for questioning.''
At first, the Sichuan peasant, Wang Chuanzhong, claimed to be the boy's father. But police grew suspicious when the howling baby quieted after a neighborhood woman took him from Wang's coarse hands.
Soon, Wang confessed to befriending the baby's parents, fellow Sichuanese, that morning. When the parents left to buy food, Wang grabbed their son and hustled off.
Hearing this, Zhao and a dozen other policeman combed the cavernous railway station but failed to find the parents. Witnesses said the couple had searched for their son, but apparently gave up and continued on what Wang said was a journey to mine coal in Shanxi Province.
Back at the police station, officers had a different problem: what to do with a screaming baby in the middle of the night.
``He was filthy, so I cut up a pair of my wife's long underwear to make a diaper,'' said Hao Zhiquan, a police officer who lives with his wife in a tiny, 10-square-yard room off the station's cobblestone courtyard.