Chinese police have arrested 802 people on suspicion of child trafficking and rescued 181 children in a major operation spanning 15 provinces, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has said.

The recent operation broke up two trafficking rings and led to the arrests of the ring leaders, the ministry said in a statement posted Friday on its website.

Child trafficking is a big problem in China. Its strict one-child policy which limits most urban couples to one child and rural couples to two, if their first-born is a girl, has driven a thriving market in babies, especially boys.

Many trafficked babies are abducted, but some are sold by families who are too poor to care for a baby or do not want a baby girl.

State media report that a baby girl can fetch $4,800 to $8,000 and that a baby boy sells for $11,200 to $12,800.

Doctor arrested

The national operation was set up earlier this year after local police spotted trafficking signs, including frequent appearances of out-of-town pregnant women in a clinic in north China's Hebei province, the ministry said.

State media reported that parents wishing to sell their babies could find potential buyers through the clinic.

A doctor at the clinic was arrested, state media said.

In central China's Henan province, an inspection of a long-distance bus turned up four suspects who tried to sell four infants, the ministry said.

Last year, China rescued more than 8,000 children who were abducted or willingly sold by parents.

Chinese courts often hand down harsh punishments, including death sentences, to child traffickers.

Source: Agencies