Human Trafficking in China

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force. The other forms include activities related to coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, and the abuse of power. Giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person for the purpose of exploitation are included in the definition of Trafficking. Exploitation also includes prostitution, other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.


Chinese criminal law defines Trafficking as the abduction, kidnapping, trading and transporting of women and children for the purpose of selling. Offences such as forced labour and other trafficking related offences are punished as ‘other’ crimes and are not included under trafficking offences.


Human Trafficking: A Serious Threat in China


According to the 2008 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, China remains “a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour.” After spending four years on Tier 2 of the TIP rankings from 2001 to 2004, China was dropped to the Tier 2 Watch List in 2005, where it has remained due to its non-compliance with the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking. On June 19, 2013 the State Department released its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report.” China received an automatic downgrade to the lowest ranking, Tier 3. Even though this report cannot be used as the authority on the issue but human trafficking has been recognised as a serious threat in China and itis acknowledged by state media and also by the official machinery. Many parts of China are experiencing large scale trafficking of women, increasing sexual violence, baby-trafficking and prostitution. According to the UN Children’s Fund, about 250,000 people were victims of trafficking. Recently a racket was busted in Inner Mongolia where 76 babies were bought for trading in other provinces. Chinese statistics reveal that around 42000 women and children were freed from human traffickers last year.


The one-child policy continues to create a demand for trafficking and create social fissures in the Chinese society.The imperative for one child meant that there was room only for the male foetus. This policy was introduced in 1979 soon after the liberalization of the economy in order to control the growing population exempting only ethnic minorities and relaxing some norms for rural couples. It was ruthlessly enforced and officials cite numbers to point to its success - 400 million births averted. Easy access to ultrasound enabled easy gender determination leading to abortions of female foetuses. The gender ratio was 108:100in 1982, 111:100 in 1990, 116:100 in 2000 and 118:100 according to the 2010 census,which is above the global average of 105:100. It has been estimated that by 2020 almost 30 million Chinese men will be unable to find brides.


The gender ratio is especially skewed in the 1 - 4 age groups standing at 130:100 in some provinces.


Another facet is that for the second order births the figures have reached up to 146:100 in rural areas according a Zhejiang University report. Thus, government policies which are meant to enable rural couples to choose their child’s gender has significantly exacerbated the problem. Additionally many unregistered female births are hidden from the authorities to enable a second chance at producing a male heir. This complicates data collection making accurate measurement of the problem impossible.


This has given rise to trafficking in women for marriage and prostitution. Resultant social tensions are rife as many men remain unmarried while some purchase brides from Vietnam and other neighbouring countries. Most women and child are trafficked from Vietnam, Russia, North Korea and Myanmar, as well as the various provinces within China. The price for a Burmese wife, for example, is somewhere between US$ 600 and US$ 2400. The Kachin issue has also given rise to trafficking Kachin women into China, by luring them with promises of good jobs and marriage prospects. Men are putting out advertisements in major newspapers, emphasizing on their wealth and begging women to respond to their proposals. Those who do not have enough money turn to illegal brokers who trick rural women with bogus job offers and sell them to these men. These trends are expected to worsen once the current generation hits a marriageable age as there are already many bachelor villages in China. For example, there is one in Banzhushan in Hunan where there is not even a single unattached woman. There have been reports citing examples of young men selling blood to pay for large houses so as to stand a chance in the materialistic Chinese marriage market. The problem is acute in rural areas such as Hainan Island, with reports suggesting that the orphanages are filled with girls whereas the classrooms are filled with boys. Many women migrate to urban areas in search of better jobs. However, not many find a job and thus become easy targets for trafficking gangs. Besides many women lured from neighbouring countries often land up in a brothel.


Child Trafficking


This has also led to an increase in child trafficking both inside and outside China. China National Radio reported in June 2013 that around 200,000 children disappear every year. Only 0.1 per cent of them are found and returned to their families. An art exhibition was organised on 1 June 2013 by Li Yueling, where volunteers working for the cause displayed photos of 61 missing children along with documentaries of their parents. Though official data is patchy but a substantial number of these children are trafficked within China.


Children across China are being abducted by human traffickers and sold for adoption, labour or as household servants or for prostitution. A major reason due to which the problem germinated and has become so entwined with the Chinese society is the one-child policy. The one-child policy has led to a burgeoning black market of stolen children, at least 70,000 a year. Due to the cultural bias for a male child, couples having the first child as a daughter and rural households having two daughters desire a male child. This bias coupled with the lax in adoptive laws has also led to the thriving of this social evil in China.


The main targets are baby boys though girls are also abducted for the purpose of selling them as labourers and for prostitution. Although some are sold to buyers in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, most of the boys are purchased domestically by families desperate for a male heir. The chain of kidnapping, transferring and selling has become so strong that in some provinces such as Guangdong, children are kidnapped and transferred out of town within half an hour and finally sold in another town. Su Qingcai, a tea farmer in the Fujian Province, admitted to buying a five-year-old boy for the equivalent of $3,500, even though Mr. Su already had a teenage daughter. “A girl is just not as good as a son,” Mr Su said in an interview to the New York Times, “It doesn’t matter how much money you have. If you don’t have a son, you are not as good as other people who have one.” There are large criminal gangs which have nationwide networks. These gangs are also involved in cross border trafficking with other countries like Vietnam and Myanmar. In May 2013 one such racket was busted and ten Vietnamese children were returned to Vietnam.



Efforts to Check the Menace


There have been numerous reports of cases where children born in violation of the one-child policy were forcefully taken by officials and registered in orphanages to be further sold abroad for adoption. In a report the Caixin Century magazine disclosed that sixteen babies were seized in Hunan as they were born in violation of the one- child policy. The office would get thousand renminbi for each child whereas the orphanage would receive US$ 3,000 to 5000 as adoption fees. Parents interviewed in this report claimed that after 2000 if the violators of one- child policy are unable to pay the fine their children are abducted by the officials.


The new department set up to look into child abductions in 2007 says that they have solved 54000 cases of trafficked children from 2007 to 2012. The government has taken some measures to control the growing menace. An action plan for fighting human trafficking 2013-2020 has been formulated with relevant international conventions and Chinese laws. The ministry also keeps a missing children database with their DNA profiling. Special offices to investigate child abduction cases have been set up and increased coordination across twenty different provinces has led to a decrease in child abduction cases. The officials, activists and parents have taken the help of social media to share information about the abducted children and draw public attention to the problem. They post photographs of kidnapped children on websites and in some cases parents have been able to locate their children. People also post pictures of children whom they suspect might have been kidnapped and sold in their neighbourhood.


Despite efforts from officials, activists and citizens the problem is increasing, though the numbers of kidnapped children have come down due to some recent crackdowns. The reasons are official corruption on the one hand and the raison d’être which has initiated the whole process in the first place. There have been reports of officials being involved with the trafficking gangs as the business is lucrative. Though the act of buying an abducted child is a criminal act; however no criminal liability has been affixed to it. People get away with punishment in form of monetary fines. Even the orphanages sometimes fail to take the DNA of the children they receive and eventually give them away for adoption which lessens the chances of verifying whether the children were abducted or not.


Though stricter laws and crackdowns might lead to a lowering of human trafficking but the One-Child Policy still continues to create a demand for it. Although in the Third Plenum, the one-child policy has been eased out wherein couples that have one parent or those who grew up as an only child can have a second baby. Many have touted this as a major decision that would turn the demographic dividend around for China and also stabilize the gender imbalance which will ultimately solve many social problems in the country. However, no immediate effect from this change can be seen. The kind of social fissures created by the one child policy will take years to fade away and one also needs to remember that the policy has been relaxed not abolished. Human trafficking will thus remain a serious problem in China for years to come.