|The abduction of three-year-old Zhou was captured on surveillance camera
China is struggling to cope with a wave of child abductions which sees more than 200 babies and toddlers being stolen every day, according to some estimates.
It is a lucrative business in which an abducted girl child can fetch $1,200 and a boy anything up to $5,000, more than the average annual salary in urban China.
"Before I only knew people stole mobile phones and wallets. Later I knew that more than 1,000 kids have been stolen in this province, more than 20 kids living near me. It is astonishing," Sun Haiyang told Al Jazeera.
The 35-year-old father knows the painful reality of the sordid business that preys on the angst of couples desperate for a child. His three-year-old boy Zhuo was last year taken from the street just 30 metres from his home in Shenzhen, southern China.
The kidnapper was caught on a surveillance video. First he handed Zhuo a snack, then a toy, before walking away with the boy.
The boy has never been found and the kidnapper has never been arrested.
"It's too easy for the gangs. For a little money they can buy a birth certificate and then permanent residency for a child thousands of kilometres away," Sun said.
"The government has created this environment."
Under China's one-child policy, rural families are allowed to try for a second child if their first is a girl, while urban parents are fined for breaking the rule. In either case having a boy is not guaranteed, leading some to desperate measures.
"The one-child policy has skewed preference for boys and this is pretty much an undercurrent of this current problem, this current tragedy," Amalee McCoy, a child protection consultant with the UN's chidren's fund Unicef, said.
"Where they end up, it is purely speculation a lot of the times, but a lot the anecdotal evidence seems to show that they go to families who are really wanting to have a boy child.
"Girls who are trafficked for illegal adoption are generally because families are looking for future wives, they want to raise girl children as future wives for their boys, and also to look after the families."
Other children end up abroad after being sold for foreign adoptions or into slavery.
Mo Shanmin was one of the few lucky parents who have seen their children returned after the ordeal.
His son, Jincang, was found 1,000km away from his home six months after he had been taken. Bystanders had watched while the trafficker tried to sell the boy and alerted the police.
"He didn't recognise me at first and sat in a line of kids with his head bowed. He was really scared of strangers but now he is better. I am so lucky," he said.
Police have had some successes in tackling the traffickers, but there is no centralised system for collating information on missing children and many parents have accused the police of not doing enough to combat the growing problem.
"The police haven't done enough to prevent child abduction, they don't do anything after parents make a report. If they act straight away then they could rescue kids but they wait 24 hours and then it is too late," Peng Gaofeng said.
|Desperate parents put up posters of their missing children
Peng lost his three-and-a-half-year old son Lele five months ago. He was also snatched a few metres from his home.
He is in contact with thousands of other parents like himself, putting pictures of their missing children on shops, trees and even pack of playing cards in a desperate attampt to track them down.
"Child abduction is a crime beyond murder. If my boy was to die in an earthquake it would be sad but I could move on. But not finding my son will mean my pain goes on. The traffickers ruin the lives of an entire family," Peng told Al Jazeera.
"The only thing that makes us survive is the belief that my son will come back. If he doesn't it will destroy me."