Inside Story

What is fuelling child abduction in China?

As Chinese authorities bust a number of child trafficking rings, we ask what is behind the trade in children.

Chinese authorities have rescued 89 children in a nationwide crackdown on trafficking gangs.

Child trafficking is widespread in China, many say, because of the country’s one-child policy and the demand it creates for sons.

Of course China is a big country and the numbers do not tell the full story, but I think … as far as poverty is concerned, China’s economy has been doing remarkably well during the past 10 years.”

– Andrew Leung, a Chinese political analyst and economist

Rights groups say authorities have failed to stamp out the practice because local officials and police officers are often complicit in the trade.

So what is fuelling the trade in trafficked children in China?

There are cases when Chinese people who are unable to conceive buy a child as a form of illegal adoption. But some experts say that it is the price foreigners are prepared to pay to adopt a child that has led to the increase in kidnappings.

Some parents also use trafficked children to get around the country’s decades-old one-child policy, which started in 1979.

The Chinese preference for a son and a male heir is another factor. Meanwhile, some children are abducted and then sold as slaves or forced into working in sweatshops.

And though boys are the main victims of child abduction, girls can sometimes be sold as wives. In some parts of rural China, buying a wife is not seen as a crime but as a part of Chinese tradition.

What can the Chinese government do to stop child trafficking?

To help answer this question and more, Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, is joined by guests: Dale Rutstein, the China spokesperson for UNICEF, the UN child protection agency; Andrew Leung, a Chinese political analyst and economist; and Victor Gao, the director of the China National Association of International Studies, a think-tank affiliated with the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs.

“When you look at the size of China, for instance [in] this recent crackdown, there were 89 children rescued and about 300 traffickers were arrested. That’s actually a very small number considering the scope of the problem in neighbouring countries, like the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos.

“The real issue for China is [how to deal with] the difficulties of the extremes of poverty and wealth. Trafficking of children is very much associated with poverty and, because of the migrant population, [a] very large number of people who are leaving rural areas and looking for opportunities in urban areas, this affects both adults, young people and at times children.

“So there is an enormous pull to leave home and find work. So during this period of China’s growth, there is a significant trafficking problem but the [reported] numbers are actually quite small.”

Dale Rutstein, from UNICEF


  • Experts say as many as 70,000 children are abducted every year  
  • China’s one-child policy is said to have created demand for baby boys  
  • Some kidnapped girls are sold as wives or forced to work as slaves  
  • Critics say corruption has allowed the trade in children to grow  
  • People are sometimes forced to sell their children because of poverty  
  • A male infant can be bought for around $5,000 in a poor province  
  • A child can be sold for over $10,000 in a wealthy area of China  
  • Child traffickers can face the death penalty if prosecuted  
  • Only a fraction of abducted children are reunited with their families