China Campaigns to Recover Stolen Babies

China's government launches Web site to connect abducted kids with parents.

BEIJING, Nov. 3, 2009 — -- No. 30, Chen Ben Hai, looks blankly into the camera. The spindly 8-year-old was kidnapped five years ago. He holds up a piece of paper with his name written on it.

No. 37, Xuyi Fan, a beautiful chubby-cheeked baby girl, was snatched in February.

No. 52, Cheng Xiao Yan, a shy-looking girl, disappeared in 2002. The list goes on.

These are the faces of Babies Looking for a Home, a newly launched Web site that aims to reconnect 60 children rescued from abduction with their families. Many of the young victims have no memory or knowledge of who and where their families are. The site displays photographs of the children and details the information it has on where they are from and the circumstances under which they disappeared.

"This is a significant event because this is the first time that public security has released photos of children they have found who have been kidnapped," says Zhang Zhiwei, a legal adviser to the Chinese nonprofit Baby Come Home, a Web site that helps parents search for their lost children.

It's the latest step in a massive government campaign to deal with China's human trafficking problem. While there are no official figures, experts estimate that as many as 20,000 children are abducted every year.

"There are many reasons for the [trafficking] problem," Zhang explains. "Some families are desperate for a boy and some people are just looking to make a profit by kidnapping the children and selling them on."

China has a traditional preference for male heirs, and to get around the one-child policy, some families sell their baby girls so they can try again for a boy. At the same time, the country's family planning policy has created an imbalance in the gender ratio and there is also now a high demand, particularly in rural areas, for girls.

In 2008 an ABC News investigation found at least two orphanages where employees admitted that they paid anywhere from $300 up for healthy babies.

Abducted Children Often Forced to Work

In other cases, children are kidnapped so that they can be forced into criminal activity or used for labor. According to the U.S. State Department's 2009 Trafficking in Human Persons Report, "Some children are abducted for forced begging and thievery in large cities. There were numerous confirmed reports of involuntary servitude of children, migrant workers and abductees in China."

In April of last year, a Chinese newspaper exposed a child labor network in Guangdong province. According to the report, thousands of children, some as young as 7 years old, were forced to work in factories 10 hours a day, seven days a week, for as little as 30 cents an hour.

With China's media paying more and more attention to child kidnappings, fears among ordinary parents have reached a fever pitch. Last week, a mob of parents in eastern China beat a man to death and badly injured four of his colleagues after a rumor spread that the men were involved with a human smuggling ring.

In the face of rising emotions and growing public criticism, China's security forces have trumpeted the new push to crack down on the problem. According to police, more than 2,000 children have been rescued in a slew of major raids targeting human trafficking rings in the last six months.

But for every child that is found, there are hundreds still missing. Xu Jian Cheng remembers every detail of the day when his little girl, Xu Qian, was taken.

"It was Oct. 18, 2008. I left for work at 11 a.m. My wife was washing clothes and Xu Qing was playing outside," he told ABC News. "Then at 12, I got a call from my wife saying she couldn't find her. Some people said they saw a middle-aged man and a woman take her. I never saw her again."

Since that day, Xu has traveled all over the country, handing out hundreds of thousands of fliers as he continues the search for his daughter.

He is optimistic about the government's campaign. "If efforts continue like this, I have hope. I really pray it's not just a show because of all the public pressure. But no matter what happens, I'll never stop looking for her."