China's Lost Children

Thousands of kids disappear annually; many are put on adoption market.

ByABC News
May 2, 2008, 1:24 PM

BEIJING, May 12, 2008 — -- More than a year ago, Liang Di went missing.

He was 3 years old at the time and shopping at an outdoor food market in Dongguan, China, with his father and 6-year old brother.

The two boys were playing outside while their father was in a hardware store. A man approached the two brothers on the street and offered them sweets. And then the man took little Di away.

His father, Liang Xiangrong, and brother did not see where they went. His parents went to the police but were told that they needed to find more clues before the authorities could do anything to help. The police never launched an investigation. And Liang Xiangrong said trying to solicit help from government officials is useless.

"We didn't tell the local officials what happened to our boy. Even if we told them, who would believe what a poor migrant worker said?" he told ABC News.

All they could do was talk to police and with other families in the area whose children had been kidnapped. The family has not heard anything about the possible whereabouts of their child. The last year has been agony.

"We think of him every day. When we close our eyes in bed at night, we think of him. When we see other people's children, we think of him. We really miss him," Liang said.

There has been a spate of child kidnappings in Dongguan, among other cities in the last few years, mostly targeting the children of poor migrant workers. Now, little Di is a statistic.

The 2007 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons report says that domestic trafficking "remains the most significant problem in China." It estimates that there are up to 20,000 victims each year, but because this is an underground practice, it is virtually impossible to track. Some estimates put the number of children kidnapped or sold on the black market closer to 70,000. The Chinese government says the number is more like 10,000.

Some of the kidnapped children are forced into work, girls often into the sex trade. Others are purchased by families in China who desperately want a child, usually a boy to carry on the family name. But there is also a growing concern that some make their way overseas, with unsuspecting foreign adoptive parents who don't realize that some orphanages have baby-buying programs, offering cash for children.

In 2005, there was a child-trafficking crackdown in Hunan province. Six orphanages were caught purchasing young infants from baby traffickers who had transported them from the neighboring Guangdong province.

In three years, nearly 1,000 children were purchased by these six orphanages, which then adopted the children out to domestic and foreign families for a profit, according to court documents in this case.

Twenty-seven people were arrested; 10 were given jail time. Despite this warning to offenders, ABC News discovered the baby-buying practice seems to be continuing in the same province.

We traveled to Hunan province's Changde Welfare House orphanage. There were reports that the orphanage gatekeeper approaches people on the street, asking them whether they know anyone looking to sell their children. She reportedly tells passers-by that the orphanage will pay around $350 per child.

ABC News employees spoke with the gatekeeper, Ms. Jie, standing at the entrance of the Changde Welfare House. She told us that she speaks on behalf of the orphanage and that it offers money for healthy baby boys and girls younger than 5, but does not pay if the child is disabled.

She said the orphanage currently only has disabled children available for adoption, so the demand for healthy children is high. Some of the children are adopted by well-to-do Chinese families who can't have a baby of their own, but this orphanage also caters to foreigners.