The sixteen day Northern China anti-child trafficking and child rescue activities had concluded. It consisted of two parts, the citizen’s anti-trafficking conference and the educational convoy that travelled through five provinces.
These actions happened after the northern Child Search organizations suffered many setbacks in recent years. The causes of these setbacks included inadequate methods of parents searching for their missing children, lack of organization and financial resources. The most important impediment was that the government considered many of these parents as “destabilizing factors”. Some desperate parents who did not succeed through years of searching often resorted to frequent petitions to the government. As a result of government attitude, parents could only stay home helplessly or wander aimlessly looking for their offspring, even coming into conflict with local police authorities. Civilian’s child search activities therefore were in a state of chaos.
With the invitation of the northern league, Huijiawang decided to hold these recent projects in rural areas in Henan, Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces where child trafficking was a particularly severe problem.
On December 8th, Huijiawang director Yao Cheng arrived in Zhengzhou, Henan. Representatives of child search organizations from different parts of the country planned to arrive by the 11th. However in the afternoon of the 10th, Zhengzhou police arrested Henan members who were responsible for the reception of the representatives. Other Henan members who were planning to attend were also under police control.
Plans had to be changed at this point. The conference was postponed. Representatives convened in Xinxiang, Henan on the 13th.
On the afternoon of December 14th, the First Huijiawang Chinese Citizens’ Anti-Child Trafficking Conference commenced at the Huangguan Jiari Hotel in Xinxiang. Over twenty representatives from Henan, Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Guizhou, Zhejiang, Guangdong and other locales attended. The agenda consisted of three items. The first was the legal problems citizens’ child rescue activities faced; The second was the exchange of information of kidnapped children; The third was the discussion on the next anti-trafficking plans.
During two days’ discussions, free and independent debates flourished. The outcome exceeded expectations. The first beneficial result was the clarification of thinking. During the conference, representatives concluded that all activities were aimed at finding the lost children. A kidnapped child meant a destroyed family. Without the return of the child, parents vowed, they would never stop searching.
In the opinion of the conference, the government had the foremost responsibility in child search activities. With its control of the power of the law, if the government really put effort into it, finding more lost children should not have been a problem. With effort from the government, the parents reasoned, it would be easy to stay patient even if their own children remained missing. Under current circumstances, to foster better working environments for civilian efforts, it was necessary to refrain from some radical actions and remain rational. But it was also necessary to communicate the desires and requests of the parents to the government. In-person petitions to Beijing should be replaced by written ones. The conference decided to reflect in writing the difficulties the parents faced in hopes of better cooperation of governmental authorities for faster and more return of the children.
During the discussion of legal issues, representatives expressed many opinions on our activities’ legality, the functions of the government and the parents’ rights and obligations. Mr. Jiang Tianyong, an attorney of the Beijing Gaobolonghua legal office answered every question. Regarding the responsibility of the government, Mr. Jiang reasoned that child trafficking was at least the failure of public safety. Child search should be mainly the responsibility of the government. It should not target the parents as subversive elements merely because of some petitions. The parents had no political aspirations. They only wanted the government to assist in looking for their missing children. More tolerance on the government’s part was called for. It should devote the resources it used to monitor the parents into searching for the children instead. Only this could solve the petition “problem”.
The second agenda was the exchange of information. Mr. Chen Puyu of the Guizhou child search league shared the successful experiences of that organization. Guizhou had suffered severe child trafficking problems, which also started very early in that province. Civilian activities to recover kidnapped children started more than twenty years ago through the individual efforts of parents who gradually became organized. So far they had found more than one hundred lost children. Cooperation existed not only between parents, but also existed between the parents and the government and media. Recently, with the help of Huijiawang and other civil society organizations, Guizhou had successful results almost every year.
The conference recognized that it was necessary to strengthen in the future intra- and inter-provincial cooperation, particularly between northern and southern provinces. The flow of trafficked children seemed to be of the southerly direction. Many northern children were sold into the south. Although there were also some southern children who were sold in the north. Only through mutual assistance, achieving common sharing of information, could we increase the efficiency of our efforts. Future efforts would necessarily be through the internet, particularly Huijiawang as a platform.
Conference attendees gave Huijiawang’s efforts high praises. They also gave many suggestions and comments to improve Huijiawang as a bridge of the child rescue effort.
Finally, consensus was reached through northern and southern representatives’ discussions on concrete future steps. The emphasis should be tailored to current flow of kidnapped children, focusing on Fujian, Guangdong, Hebei and coastal areas of Shandong, border areas between provinces, rural areas, particularly the schools and family workshops in those areas. The targets of the search should be on lost children who were looking for their families. Older children who retained memories of their original homes and the desire to search for their parent had much higher chances of success than parents searching for their lost children. To facilitate this, we would make more educational material aimed at children, to increase the ability of trafficked children to receive assistance. On the question of organization, individual actions of parents should be avoided as much as possible. Most parents through years of searching had exhausted their financial resources. Concentrated organizations would expend such resources more efficiently. It would also more easily reach respectable scale, hopefully ensuring better safety for activists.
Recent Child Rescue activities crossed vast rural areas north of the Yellow River, through five provinces, thirty counties and municipalities, totaling 3,000 kilometers. We distributed more than 60,000 pamphlets and other educational materials. We organized a dozen large pictorial exhibits. Our travels left impact on every hamlet, market, school and gas station we visited. On behalf of Huijiawang, I express my sincerest thanks to friends and media who supported us along the way. Thanks were also due for all the parent volunteers in the convoy, who during their time searching for their own children, also contributed to the cause of every family with a missing child.
Looking back at our recent project, we could be gratified for our successes and recognize our shortcomings. Here is a conclusion of some of these lessons.
First, we gathered systematic and somewhat comprehensive information about missing children in North China. Northern areas that were destinations of child trafficking were relatively scattered, contrary to the south. Poor rural areas dominated. Trades of human traffickers tended to happen in provincial border regions where law enforcement was lax. Northern families who bought children did so mainly for reasons of adding sons and child brides. The trend showed that the target of kidnapping were changing from boys dominating to more girl victims. Girls from age 7 to even teens were going missing. Although there could not be precise estimates on the numbers, cases that organizations in northern provinces had knowledge of were increasing exponentially. The child trafficking situation was deteriorating rapidly.
Secondly, recent activities alleviated the mood of many parents, and voided conflicts with the government. Northerners had straightforward tempers. Fruitless and frustrating searches often resulted in increasingly sharp conflicts with the government. As a result, child search activities and organizations could not receive any support or cooperation from governmental authorities. This conference and convoy emphasized measured interactions with the government. The conference proposed a bettering of relations with the government to the utmost of our ability. The suggestion to refrain from in-person petitions to Beijing was accepted by most attendees. We concluded that to root out the problem of child trafficking,
to reunite more children with their parents, the only hope rested largely with the government. During our travels we chose mostly rural routes. We had no conflict with local governments. Wherever they prohibited our assemblies, we would leave. We could not have our meeting in Zhenzhou, we held it in Xingxiang. We could not travel to Taiyuan, we went to Xi’an.
Thirdly, appropriate methods produced obvious results. Before, northern parent activists mainly acted on their own. Searching with limited funds in a country of this size had predicable results. Their economic situation could not but sink into difficulties. Our activities gave hope to everyone. Representatives all agreed with Huijiawang’s thinking and planned closer cooperation in the future, to use Huijiawang as a platform and maximize the potential of the internet for better efficiency. We hoped to be able to organize similar activities several times a year. When appropriate, northern parents could travel together to the south and vice versa. During this project, we receive much information about kidnapped children, including leads on dozens of cases that would be posted on Huijiawang after confirmation.
Finally, previous urban focus began to shift to rural area. Most kidnapped children were sold to villages. This project not only gathered information on kidnapped children, but also raised awareness of child trafficking problems among rural area residents. To see so many children missing and sold shocked many villagers. The tears of the parents and the care of volunteers moved many local residents deeply. Countless friendly locals donated, showed us directions and gave us case information. All the way through our travels, hotels and restaurants gave us discounts. Parking lots didn’t charge us a cent. Every place we went, as soon as we began to exhibit our posters, passersby began to help.
Our shortcomings were mainly a result of our insufficient preparation. Parents also gave many suggestions for improvement. Equipments were inadequately prepared. There were troubles with the cars, the loudspeakers, educational materials, et al.
This was the first time Huijiawang reached northern areas of the country. Our understanding of the local situation was not full. Our activities paled in comparison to the efforts of the parent volunteers. Credits to any success should mainly go to them. Huijiawang only did what it should do.
We wish the parents success in finding their children, to fulfill their dreams of reunion of their families in the new year.