Living With Dead Hearts: The Search for China's Kidnapped Children

At Foreign Policy, Charles Custer describes the scale and causes of child kidnapping in China:

Since at least the 1980s, kidnapping and human trafficking have become a problem in China, and most often, the victims are children. Estimates vary on just how bad things have gotten. The Chinese government reports that fewer than 10,000 children are kidnapped each year, but the U.S. State Department says it’s closer to 20,000. Some independent estimates put the number as high as 70,000 (compared with 100 to 200 children kidnapped per year in the United States, for example).

The vast majority of kidnapped children will never see their families again. In China, kids are abducted not for ransom but for sale. Often, they come from poor and rural families — the families least likely to be capable of tracking their kids down or fighting back. Some children are then sold to new “adoptive” families looking for children. Others are sold into slave labor, prostitution, or a life on the streets. In some cases, healthy children are brutally crippled by handlers on the theory that a child with broken legs or horrific boils looks sadder and can earn more money begging on the street.

Some children are even sold into adoption overseas. Chinese adoption agencies seeking the substantial donations foreign parents make when they adopt — in some cases, as much as $5,000 — have been known to purchase children from human traffickers, though these cases appear to be relatively rare.

Custer describes one case in a guest post at Danwei:

By the time Liu Jingjun was two, the parents had decided they didn’t want more children, and both had operations to ensure there would be no further pregnancies. Shortly after this, Liu Jingjun was kidnapped.

On April 11, 2010, Mr. Liu went to work and his wife stayed home to watch the children. Jingjun, who was not even two at the time, was outside in the alley playing with some older neighborhood children, and his mother was inside the apartment. Around 10:30 A.M., she went to look for Jingjun and discovered he was missing. She called Liu, who came home, and together they called the police.

The police did come, but told them to calm down and have a look around themselves, assuring them that the child had probably just wandered off or been taken into some neighbor’s house. So the couple searched on their own until the evening, when Mr. Liu discovered one of his neighbors had a surveillance camera with an unobstructed view of the alley. He got his neighbor to let him review the recordings and watched in horror as he saw a man walk onscreen, grab his son, and carry him into a van at the end of the alley.

Custer is working on a film, ‘Living With Dead Hearts‘, about child kidnapping in China, and is currently seeking funding to continue production. Please take five minutes to view the following pitch and trailer, and share it widely:


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