In China, parents mourn children
abducted by traffickers
provinces across the country, according to
witnesses and postings...
In its 2009 report on human trafficking, the
U.S. State Department said China’s tra...
GUANGZHOU, 30 Apr 2009 (Reuters) – With
China’s rising affluence, increasing numbers of
infertile couples have been seekin...
Hundreds of Chinese surrogacy agencies
are openly listed on Chinese search engines
like Baidu, luring prospective clients ...
SHENZHEN, 28 Jan 2009 (Reuters) – As
China’s economic...
layoffs in some cities.
“In Shanghai, where there’ve been lots of
layoffs, the loca...
director of the Guangzhou Academy of Social
James Pomfret
© Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved. 49000...
of 8


Published on: Mar 4, 2016

Transcripts - Pomfretfeatures2009

  • 1. In China, parents mourn children abducted by traffickers provinces across the country, according to witnesses and postings on missing child websites. Some children are abducted to serve as props for beggars and women are also kidnapped and sold into prostitution or as forced labor in factories. While many parents are aware of the problem and have bolstered supervision of their kids in known blackspots, elsewhere, particularly in rural areas, a lack of publicity and media exposure means parents are unaware of the problem and often let their children play outdoors unsupervised. Estimates are difficult to come by, though the China Ministry of Public Security reported investigating 2,566 potential trafficking cases in 2008. “Due to lack of information and the difficulty of tracing children in a vast country such as China, very few children have actually been found,” Kirsten Di Martino, UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection in China told Reuters in a written response to questions. FIGHTING BACK The plight of such torn families is often made worse by indifferent, sometimes callous treatment by local police, lax child trafficking laws and poor enforcement. “In one case, the traffickers even dared to abduct a child right inside a police station ... this shows how rampant they are,” Zheng Chunzhong, a bakery owner in Dongguan whose son was kidnapped in 2003, told Reuters. Since then, the slim, softly-spoken Zheng has pressured Dongguan authorities to do more to fight the problem, forming a local alliance of some 200 parents who held a recent protest march outside local government offices. “There are too many cases of missing children. They (the police) are too embarrassed to let higher-level officials know,” he said during a lunch that was interrupted by a public security officer, a reminder of the police surveillance he says he’s long endured due to his outspokenness on the issue. China’s relatively soft anti-trafficking laws have made it difficult to locate missing children. EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE WRITING SOPA 2010 THOMSON REUTERS JAN 2010 By James Pomfret and Venus Wu REUTERS imagery DONGGUAN, 28 Jun 2009 (Reuters) – In the quiet village of Shang Di, wedged among factory towns in southern China, Deng Huidong wheels out a dusty two-seater tricycle that her 9-month-old son rode the day he was abducted outside her family house in 2007. Little Ruicong, who was snatched by men in a white van as he played in an alleyway, hasn’t been seen since. He is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands of children who go missing in China each year, victims of roving criminal gangs preying on vulnerable areas. “My heart is bleeding,” said Deng as she cried beside a framed photograph of her son splashing in a bath tub. “I just want to find my son. Every time I see a child, it reminds me of my son and I wonder whether I will see him again.” While China has made giant economic and social strides over the past few decades, the number of abducted children remains alarmingly high in a nation whose wrenching one-child policy and yawning income disparities have fueled demand for children particularly male heirs, trafficked by underground syndicates. Human trafficking is widespread across China with kidnapping cases reported in numerous John Chalmers T +65 6870 3812 Editor, Political and General News, Asia M +65 9107 8590 18 Science Park Drive Singapore 118229 49000171_SOPA_Collateral 1 1/27/10 12:32 PM
  • 2. EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE WRITING JAN 2010 In its 2009 report on human trafficking, the U.S. State Department said China’s trafficking laws “do not conform to international standards.” It urged China to “significantly improve efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish trafficking offenders, including public officials complicit in trafficking.” Not only have current laws failed to deter the buying of children, traditional patriarchal values remain deeply engrained in places such as Chaozhou and in poor, rural communities where families still see nothing wrong in buying a kidnapped boy. “Further policy action particularly in the area of social protection is required to reduce the dependence of rural parents on their sons for support in old age, sickness and other difficulties,” said UNICEF’s Di Martino. Boys, particularly toddlers, can fetch 30,000 yuan ($4,390) on the black market, whereas girls fetch much less, around $500, according to media reports, making it a lucrative illicit trade. Parents like Deng have transformed their grief to activism, traveling across China with banners and leaflets of their missing children, while networking by phone and the Internet to lobby authorities for tougher laws and effective enforcement. “Until now there are no real laws punishing buyers ... if there is no one buying the children, they wouldn’t snatch the children in the first place,” said Deng. But Fu Hualing, a legal expert at the University of Hong Kong said cracking down more on buyers could bring social strain. While the current laws fail to deter the buying of children, amending the laws alone cannot solve the root of the problem, according to Fu, a legal academic at the Hong Kong University. “It has to do with one-child policy. Unless you change that particular policy, there are lots of social consequences which are very much foreseeable,” Fu said. In recent years, websites like “Baby Come Home” (www.baobeihuijia) have cropped up, providing a powerful forum for posting 2 SOPA 2010 • THOMSON REUTERS missing child notices, while a groundswell of volunteers nationwide have emerged, striving to fill the void of poorly regarded police enforcement and investigative work. One volunteer said he’s helped rescue dozens of abducted children in recent years by posing as an online buyer to lure traffickers and their go-betweens and then calling in the police. “When I succeed, my conscience feels gratified ... I mostly use the Internet, it has transformed how I find these kids,” said the 27-year-old who is a martial arts instructor in Guangzhou. Increased pressure from broken families, the media, Internet bloggers and activists has led to some hopeful policy shifts. Around 20 Chinese provinces have now established anti-trafficking strategies and increased budgets for such enforcement work, according to UNICEF, while the first National Plan of Action on Anti-trafficking was published in 2007 to boost co-ordination among public security agencies spread across China’s vast territories. While the percentage of solved cases remains low, there have been isolated breakthroughs often trumpeted by state media. In early June, police across China rescued 23 children in a nationwide crackdown on child trafficking from poor regions including the less developed southwestern province of Yunnan and the coal-mining province of Shanxi. Parental groups are also petitioning Beijing directly for help, calls to further expand a DNA database of missing kids that was set up in May this year. “It all depends on the central government’s actions. You cannot rely on the local government,” said Zheng. “Even if there is only one percent hope, we will still spend 100 percent of our efforts to find our children,” he added. REUTERS imagery 49000171_SOPA_Collateral 2 1/27/10 12:32 PM
  • 3. GUANGZHOU, 30 Apr 2009 (Reuters) – With China’s rising affluence, increasing numbers of infertile couples have been seeking surrogate mothers to bear them babies. In recent years, officials have largely turned a blind eye to this underground womb-for- rent industry that defies the country’s strict childbirth laws. Now, there are signs the authorities are starting to crack down by forcing some surrogate mothers to abort their fetuses. In the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, three young surrogate first-time mothers were discovered by authorities hiding in a communal flat. Soon afterwards, district family planning and security officers broke into the flat, bundled them into a van and drove them to a district hospital where they were manhandled into a maternity ward, the mothers recounted to Reuters. “I was crying ‘I don’t want to do this’,” said a young woman called Xiao Hong, who was pregnant with four-month-old twins. “But they still dragged me in and injected my belly with a needle,” the 20-year-old told Reuters of her ordeal which happened in late February. The woman, who declined to give her full name for fear of reprisals, said the men had forced her thumbprint onto a consent form before carrying out the abortion. Another of the surrogates, who said she’d come from a village in Sichuan province, recounted how officers made her take pills then surgically removed her three-month- old fetus while she was unconscious. “I was terrified,” the 23-year-old said. A spokesman for the Guangdong Provincial Family Planning Commission Zhong Qingcai declined to be formally interviewed by Reuters, but said authorities were investigating. The official Guangzhou Daily newspaper quoted district family planning officials as saying the women were all unmarried and acting as “illegal” surrogates. It added the three had “agreed” to undergo “remedial measures” in accordance with the law. But the head of the surrogacy agency caring for the mothers, disputes this version of events. “It’s an absolute crime,” said Lu Jinfeng, the founder of the “China Surrogate Mother” website ( which has run for over five years without encountering any problems like this. “By forcefully dragging people away like this EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE WRITING JAN 2010 Forced abortions shake up China wombs-for-rent industry By James Pomfret 3 SOPA 2010 • THOMSON REUTERS REUTERS imagery to undergo an abortion is a savage illegal act that violates human rights.” TIGHTER CURBS Since the incident, a notable vein of officially sanctioned media reports, including one paper describing the profit margins of the surrogacy business as “greater than the narcotics trade,” has led some observers to expect tighter curbs in future. “When you see this kind of reporting it’s a kind of public education ... a sign the government is going to do something,” said Siu Yat-ming, an expert on China’s family planning issues with Hong Kong’s Baptist University. “They’re becoming more aware of the situation ... a lot of the (surrogacy) agencies are making a lot of money just like an organized industry,” Siu added. Underground networks of surrogacy agents, hospitals, and doctors have spread in recent years as infertile Chinese couples with money hire surrogates to produce babies for them. The surrogates are often confined to secret flats for most of the duration of their pregnancy to avoid detection, while fertility, obstetrics and childbirth procedures for the mothers are often carried out discreetly by medical staff at public hospitals and health clinics with links to agents. “Under China’s civil law, this (surrogacy) should be prohibited. Intermediary (surrogacy) services are also essentially illegal,” said Zhang Minan, a law professor at Guangzhou’s Sun Yat-sen University and an expert on the issue. “But these cases exist and they cannot possibly be made public or legalized. You cannot legalize such practices,” he added, referring to China’s tight birth planning rules which have restricted couples to just one child since the late 1970’s. With around one in six couples in the U.S. now estimated to be infertile and with similar rates seen in China as modern urban lifestyles take hold, surrogacy agencies have been recruiting girls, often from poor villages, to have babies on behalf of prospective parents, in ever greater numbers. Accurate figures on the size of the industry are hard to come by, but a recent report by the respected Southern Metropolis Weekly estimated around 25,000 surrogate children have been born so far in China, citing research into surrogacy agency websites carried out by family planning authorities. 49000171_SOPA_Collateral 3 1/27/10 12:32 PM
  • 4. Hundreds of Chinese surrogacy agencies are openly listed on Chinese search engines like Baidu, luring prospective clients with maternal imagery and pop-up windows offering live chats. Prospective surrogate mothers are openly recruited and paid between 50,000 to 100,000 yuan ($14,650) per pregnancy on some sites, making it a lucrative profession for poor village girls in a country where the average annual per capital income for rural households is around $600. OUTLAWS While emotional, ethical and legal complications make surrogacy a thorny topic in many countries, the trend has been on the rise globally. India, in particular, has become a “surrogate outsourcing” hub for infertile and gay Western couples. “There are millions of people out there who want to have kids but can’t,” Robert Klitzman, a bio-ethicist at Columbia University’s Medical Center told Reuters by phone from New York. India has moved to introduce legislation on surrogacy to safeguard the rights and health of impoverished women from exploitation. In some U.S. states paid surrogacy is outlawed, while weak regulatory oversight in states such as California has led to clients being duped by unscrupulous surrogacy brokers. “Whenever you have an underground industry you’re going to have problems because there’s no guarantee that they’re going to follow standards of safety, follow standard medical or ethical practice. There’s a lack of transparency,” Klitzman added. In China, however, with the number of surrogate births still very small compared to the overall birth rate, the prospect of a safe legal framework remains a distant one, leaving open the risk of arbitrary, violent enforcement. “They (the authorities) do have the right (to force abortions) but it rarely happens because such surrogacy is extremely secretive. And for the authorities it’s difficult to get evidence,” said Zhang, the legal scholar. “Because this problem hasn’t yet sparked widespread social interest, so from this perspective the Chinese government hasn’t really noticed the matter, nor accepted it,” he said. “If this problem does spark widespread social interest, then authorities might start to do something about it,” Zhang added. EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE WRITING JAN 2010 4 SOPA 2010 • THOMSON REUTERS REUTERS imagery 49000171_SOPA_Collateral 4 1/27/10 12:32 PM
  • 5. EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE WRITING JAN 2010 5 SOPA 2010 • THOMSON REUTERS SHENZHEN, 28 Jan 2009 (Reuters) – As China’s economic storm clouds darken and more firms face bankruptcy, factory workers such as Xiang Yongheng have seen their confidence badly shaken in authorities who are supposed to protect their labour rights. Beaten by thugs last week after demanding three months of unpaid wages from his bosses at the “Yi Fan” food processing factory in Shenzhen’s Longgang district, Xiang appealed to the local labour bureau and police for help, but to no avail. “They just said we can’t help you. The authorities are trying to suppress my case, I even took evidence to them but they ignored it and just told me to go away,” said the 25-year-old. The enactment of the labour contract law last year marked a new milestone in the push to safeguard workers’ rights -- particularly the 130 million or so migrant workers powering China’s export engine – making it tougher for bosses to fire staff, while boosting social security and severance payouts. While factory owners decried the laws as a crippling cost burden, workers hailed the ChInese labour laWs buCkle as eConomy darkens By James Pomfret new legislation – which unleashed a flood of arbitration and labour dispute cases in migrant-heavy manufacturing hubs such as Guangdong’s Pearl River Delta. Now though, Xiang and many others are becoming disillusioned by officials who turn a blind eye to routine violations in order to ease the burden on stricken businesses during the downturn. TURNING A BLIND EYE “From what I’ve seen, workers’ justice hasn’t changed for the better. Like what’s happening here, we don’t sign contracts, nor are things settled using the labour contract law,” Xiang said. The growing anecdotal evidence of the strains on China’s labour laws have been increasingly voiced of late, highlighting the difficult task faced by China’s leaders in balancing economic growth and social stability during the downturn. “The global economic crisis threatens to derail much of the progress made by China’s workers over the last few years,” said labour rights group China Labour Bulletin in a recent editorial. The Dagongzhe Migrant Workers Rights Centre in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen has also voiced concerns at pervasive “tricks” used by employers to circumvent the new laws. These include reduced overtime pay and using doctored contracts that were either blank, incomplete or written in English to confuse and limit possible legal liabilities. In a survey of 320 workers by Dagongzhe, 79 percent said they were “dissatisfied” with the situation in factories, while nearly a quarter said factory bosses had hiked both food prices and penalties for minor mistakes on production lines. About 26 percent of workers never signed any contracts, especially in smaller factories, while 28 percent said they were paid less than the legal minimum wage. “A lot of factories now are using the financial crisis as a means to protect their own interests,” said Ivy Yu, a coordinator with the Dagongzhe Migrant Workers Rights Centre. In recent weeks, Guangdong’s prosecutor’s office issued a controversial set of guidelines, saying it wouldn’t prosecute key business personnel or technical staff for minor crimes, in a bid to help businesses during the downturn. The move generated a flurry of public criticism. Meanwhile, other local governments in the Pearl River Delta have also weighed in with their own “guidelines” to help keep firms afloat. In Huizhou city, labour authorities recently called on businesses to “stringently adhere” to the labour contract law given the spectre of greater bankruptcies, while advising layoffs be carried out “as much as possible on a small-scale to avoid legal procedures.” RULE OF LAW UNDERMINED But while enforcement of labour laws may have been quietly allowed to slip during the downturn, the stability-obsessed ruling Communist Party hasn’t entirely ignored the plight of workers either given the risk of social unrest. Provisions on mass layoffs and collective dismissals were recently re-organised under new “guidelines,” so that firms looking to lay off more than 20 people or 10 percent of their workforce now need to get approval from local authorities. The push seems to have had some success in stanching potentially destabilising waves of REUTERS imagery 49000171_SOPA_Collateral 5 1/27/10 12:32 PM
  • 6. EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE WRITING JAN 2010 layoffs in some cities. “In Shanghai, where there’ve been lots of layoffs, the local labour bureau told us that so far nobody has even applied and they don’t want to be the first ... to deal with the mass layoffs,” said Andreas Lauffs, a Chinese labour law expert at global law firm Baker McKenzie. “From a macro point of view, the (Communist) party is looking at social harmony as much as possible, and super- afraid of millions of people unemployed on the street and causing social unrest,” Lauffs added. While Beijing’s desire to tide things through the crisis may be understandable, some legal scholars say the shifting policies and guidelines have ended up tarnishing China’s rule of law. “It’s always my view that the government should not interfere with the function of the court, nor the function of the enterprises,” said Wang Guiguo, the dean and chair of Chinese and Comparative Law at Hong Kong’s City University. “I think the government should leave the market alone and let the market function itself. If a company is bound to die, let them die. “As far as this labour law is concerned, I think on the whole it’s a good law but most probably has been introduced prematurely to China, it’s too early,” Wang said. For now, however, many factories are opting to simply shut down to avoid paying workers’ claims for unpaid wages and severance pay – a trend that could worsen during the Lunar New Year when many migrants return home for a long annual holiday. “They (factory owners) didn’t have the confidence in the legal system to go through official liquidation and layoffs, so they just walked away and gave up their assets,” said Lauffs. For Xiang, the worker who was severely beaten and cheated out of his wages, the new labour laws have opened his eyes to social injustice, and he has no intention of closing them again. “This incident has made me very pessimistic,” he said. “But I’ve decided to fight till the end. My life has come under threat, and I must deal with this to defend the dignity of workers.” 6 SOPA 2010 • THOMSON REUTERS GUANGZHOU, 20 Apr 2009 (Reuters) – Sweating heavily and yelling at Chinese police officers, a group of Nigerians dragged the lifeless body of an injured compatriot up to a Guangzhou police station, blood dripping from a deep gash on his head. Around them, a crowd of over one hundred Africans chanted, some holding sticks as others smashed potted plants and blocked traffic, demanding justice from the Chinese police after officers chased the man out of a high-rise window in a tightening security crackdown on illegal overstayers in the city this year. “They don’t like black people to stay in China any more. They want us to go,” said Frank, one of the Nigerians at the protest on July 15 that was filmed by witnesses. “They treat us like animals,” added Frank, an illegal overstayer, who wouldn’t give his name for fear of reprisals. The spontaneous protest – a rare direct confrontation between foreigners and authorities in China – is a vivid reminder of the challenges faced by Beijing’s stability- obsessed Communist Party as it engages with the world and builds up trade links abroad. In the past few years, tens of thousands of African and Arab traders have thronged to export hubs like Guangzhou and Yiwu in eastern China to seek their fortunes – sourcing cheap China-made goods back home to massive markups in a growing, lucrative trade. But just as mass Chinese immigration abroad has fanned recent social tensions in Africa and other places, the influx of large numbers of foreigners, particularly Africans, into China is altering the social fabric of cities like Guangzhou and proving a headache to authorities. While this rising tide of foreigners has brought vast economic gains, the edgy cosmopolitanism of melding cultures and liberal ideals has been laced with racial and social tensions, along with the problem of illegal overstayers resorting to crime. “While most black people are engaged in valuable trading activities, others are staying illegally, working without valid permits or smuggling,” said Peng Peng, the research Out of Africa and into China, emigres struggle By James Pomfret REUTERS imagery 49000171_SOPA_Collateral 6 1/27/10 12:32 PM
  • 7. EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE WRITING JAN 2010 7 SOPA 2010 • THOMSON REUTERS director of the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, a provincial thinktank. “How to manage this is becoming a very big problem.” CULTURE CLASH Guangzhou’s African community began swelling in the late 1990s with a trickle of traders from Mali, but in the past five years, numbers have nearly tripled on a wave of Nigerians to around 20-30,000 according to Peng, though reports suggest there could be as many as 100,000 if overstayers are factored in. While Africans have moved to other cosmopolitan Chinese cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing, those in Guangzhou are most conspicuous – filling the streets in a district known as “Little Africa” replete with ethnic shops, eateries, and export malls crammed with all manner of goods including fake designer jeans, wigs, bright African textiles and VCD players. But the influx has also caused unease among local Chinese. Some neighborhood committees bar Africans from living in residential complexes, while Internet forums such as Tianya buzz with heated, at times xenophobic, discussions of “black person” issues in the city. “A lot of Chinese don’t like Africans, but there’s nothing we can do. They’re flooding into Guangzhou,” wrote one blogger on Tianya. Others blamed the immigrants for problems from drug peddling and petty theft, to the spread of HIV among prostitutes. On the streets, while explicit racism is rare among conservative Chinese urbanites, fights do sometimes break out between Africans and Chinese over business disputes. “Racial stereotypes on both sides do exist ... it’s indicative of starkly different cultures,” said Martyn Davies, a China expert at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University. “The challenge of the whole China- Africa relationship is going to be cultural acceptance ... It’s not about capital or management skill or whatever, it’s about culture and essentially to break down stereotypes they have of one another.” SECURITY SQUEEZE In perhaps the most stark indication of official discomfort with mass African immigration, Guangzhou authorities have refused to allow REUTERS imagery more open and transparent immigration policies, particularly for visa-extensions. In numerous interviews with African traders and illegal overstayers in the city, frustrations at restrictive and inconsistent visa policies have risen, exacerbating the plight of Africans opting to stay on expired visas to keep their businesses flowing, and thereby avoid costly flights home and back again. “It’s very rough,” said Emeka Ven Chukwu, a 30-year-old Nigerian based in Guangzhou. “It’s been happening for a long time. Even before the Olympics, it has been very difficult to extend (visas).” Resentment toward the police has also grown amid the recent spate of overnight raids and perceptions of corruption. “They just want to arrest you, collect money, then arrest you again,” said Paul Omoshola, a Nigerian businessman in Guangzhou. Visa extensions, seen as critical for traders and fixers to stay beyond the usual 30-day visa period – while difficult to obtain through official channels – can be arranged relatively easily through Chinese agents for large fees of $2,000 upwards. Guangzhou’s Public Security Bureau would not comment on its visa and security policies when contacted by Reuters. “One thing that has been very apparent is the arbitrariness of visa issuance in China,” said Gordon Mathews, an academic at Hong Kong’s Chinese University who has studied the issue. With the recent ethnic unrest in Xinjiang having unnerved Beijing, some experts say there could be a further tightening of visas going forward, particularly with sensitive anniversaries and events coming up. “During the Asian Games (in 2010) there will definitely be some level of control, this is normal. After the Games, we can loosen things a little,” said Peng, the thinktank director. Ademola Oladele, a spokesman at the Nigerian Embassy in Beijing, noted the need for authorities to crack down on illegal overstayers. But he also expressed concern at the recent police raid that sparked such anger among hundreds of Nigerians. “If there is any clamping down on illegal immigrants it’s fine. That’s their law. But it should not be done in an inhumane way or a way that could affect a life,” said Oladele. STILL DOING BUSINESS Sino-Africa trade exceeded the $100 billion mark last year, a jump of 45 percent on the year before, fueled at one end by China’s demand for Africa’s energy and natural resources, and Africa’s love of cheap Chinese goods at the other. The recent problems in Guangzhou however, underscore the risks of such rapid changes exacerbating cultural and religious differences that might otherwise be avoided through more sensitive policy-making. Despite all the problems facing Africans hoping to lay deeper roots in Guangzhou, securing short-term visas for events like the Canton Fair, Asia’s top trade fair, is comparatively easy. “It’s a piece of cake,” said Nampewo Sylivia, a young single businesswoman from Uganda happily browsing clumps of wigs made from real and fake hair at the Canaan Wholesale Trading Center. “It’s still far easier to get a China visa than an American one,” she added. While African traders say business has fallen sharply this year given a slump in African demand during the downturn and sliding exchange rates, many remain drawn to China’s potential. “China produces nearly everything that you need in the world, said Omoshola, the Nigerian trader who was also at the protest. “We are still here doing business,” he added. 49000171_SOPA_Collateral 7 1/27/10 12:32 PM
  • 8. James Pomfret EXCELLENCE IN FEATURE WRITING JAN 2010 © Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved. 49000171 Republication or redistribution of Thomson Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters. “Thomson Reuters and the Kinesis logo are trademarks of Thomson Reuters.” 49000171_SOPA_Collateral 8 1/27/10 12:32 PM

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