Chinese authorities have rescued 89 trafficked minors as young as 10 days and the oldest four years and arrested 369 suspects after uncovering two child trafficking gangs, authorities said Wednesday.
The busts highlighted China's thriving black market in children — mostly involving buyers who want more children or those who want them as slave labour — that endures despite harsh penalties for traffickers, including death.
It was not clear from the reports posted Wednesday on the Ministry of Public Security website if sex abuse also might have been a motive. Calls to the ministry went unanswered.
One case stretched across 14 provinces in China and the other involved a trafficking ring that mainly sold children in Vietnam through neighbouring Guangxi province.
A report by the People's Daily, posted on the ministry's website, said raids were carried out on July 20 in 14 provinces in the south, east and north of the country.
The operation involved 2,600 officers and the People's Daily said the youngest child was 10 days old and the oldest four years.
A separate People's Daily report that wasn't published on the ministry's website said the Vietnam operation on July 15 resulted in the rescue of eight infants aged 10 days to seven months. Thirty-nine people, of which at least four were Vietnamese, were detained.
A total of 89 minors were rescued and 369 suspects arrested in both operations, the reports said.
Police sent the rescued children to orphanages as their parents had not been found.
It is often difficult to trace the parents of trafficked children and the law has not clearly defined the circumstances in which a buyer of a child should be punished. While many babies are stolen, some are sold by their parents.
Liu Ancheng, deputy director of the Ministry of Public Security Criminal Investigation Bureau, was quoted in the People's Daily report as saying that if the buyers have not abused the children, they cannot be held criminally responsible.
Liu said the "dreadful practice of buying and selling children" is a result of ignorance of the law in rural areas as well as traditional Chinese social norms that call for people "to have both sons and daughters" and children who will look after a parent in old age.
China's traditional preference for male heirs means some families sell their female babies in order to try for a boy, since the country's one-child policy limits most urban couples to one child and rural families to two.