Child kidnapping in China: A case study

This post is by C. Custer, editor in chief of ChinaGeeks. For the past year, he has been researching and filming a documentary about kidnapped children in China. This is the story of one of the subjects of the film.

Mr. Liu and his wife were much like any of the other millions and millions of migrants who have moved to cities all across China. The couple met in the countryside in their home province of Shanxi but soon decided to move to Taiyuan, the provincial capital. There, they rented a tiny one room apartment in a building at the end of a long, narrow alley. Mr. Liu found full-time work as a laborer; his wife took a part time job and watched over the family’s two children, a daughter and their young son Liu Jingjun.

By the time Liu Jingjun was two, the parents had decided they didn’t want more children, and both had operations to ensure there would be no further pregnancies. Shortly after this, Liu Jingjun was kidnapped.

On April 11, 2010, Mr. Liu went to work and his wife stayed home to watch the children. Jingjun, who was not even two at the time, was outside in the alley playing with some older neighborhood children, and his mother was inside the apartment. Around 10:30 A.M., she went to look for Jingjun and discovered he was missing. She called Liu, who came home, and together they called the police.

The police did come, but told them to calm down and have a look around themselves, assuring them that the child had probably just wandered off or been taken into some neighbor’s house. So the couple searched on their own until the evening, when Mr. Liu discovered one of his neighbors had a surveillance camera with an unobstructed view of the alley. He got his neighbor to let him review the recordings and watched in horror as he saw a man walk onscreen, grab his son, and carry him into a van at the end of the alley.

It’s difficult to get around the fact that Liu’s wife left their two-year-old son alone outside, and indeed, following the kidnapping, many of Liu’s friends urged him to divorce her. In her defense, though, the apartment they live in is off a long and somewhat secluded alley. While it’s probably never a good idea to leave a two-year old in the “supervision” of other children (who had left by the time Jingjun was kidnapped), the tenants in that area do have a sense of community and it’s withdrawn enough from major roads that a parent might come to see it as a “safe” place that was sort of part of their own home, especially given that their actual apartment is extremely small and many tenants spend a good amount of time in outside areas.

In any event, Jingjun had clearly been kidnapped, and after reviewing the videotape, police promised to investigate. To date, however, they have had no major leads and there have been no changes in the status of Jingjun’s case.

Not content to wait for police to “investigate” — based on our interviews, it seems the vast majority of these investigations are fruitless and whether or not the police are actually doing much is questionable — Liu and his wife and family took to the streets, printing flyers and searching high traffic areas like the train and bus stations for the next seven days straight. They found no sign of their son.

In the year and a half since then, Liu has had to return to work, but he visits an Internet cafe every night to spend several hours online looking for his son and making posts about the case. Information about Jingjun has appeared on the local TV and radio as well as in newspapers. Liu and a number of other Shanxi parents also hold publicity events to pass out flyers about their children and raise awareness about kidnapping. At one such event we attended, the parents set up a truck and dozens of posters along a crowded sidewalk in central Taiyuan, and stayed there for several hours passing out flyers and speaking with passers-by and reporters before police arrived and told them to leave.

In their search, Liu and his wife have also come in contact with scammers. The couple — like many parents of kidnapped children — frequently receive phone calls from strangers who promise information on their lost son, but only if Liu pays the caller an exorbitant sum of money (generally around 50,000 yuan). At first, the couple was tormented by their inability to pay, but later as they came to know other parents in the same situation, they learned that these calls are quite common, and generally speaking, the caller has no real information to offer. Now, Liu tells them he’ll be happy to pay any sum they’d care to name as soon as his child is returned home. So far, no caller has taken him up on the offer.

The outlook for Liu Jingjun is not great. As such a young age, chances are he was kidnapped to be sold into “adoption” by another family. On the one hand, this means he will likely live a relatively normal life, and if his new “parents” are careful, he may never even know that he was kidnapped and sold into his “family.” Of course, even if his “adoptive parents” are caught, Liu Jingjun’s chances of finding his way home are slim. Just this June, police cracked a kidnapping ring and rescued dozens of children but were ultimately forced to return them to their buyers because they were unable to determine the children’s origins.

Successes should become more common as more and more parents have their DNA tested and filed to be cross-referenced whenever police uncover kidnapped children. But at the moment, official statistics are hard to come by and anecdotally, success rates seem dismally low. Of all the parents we’ve spoken to in the past year, not a single set has received any significant information about their child’s case, let alone recovered their child.

Needless to say, they’re still searching.

To learn more about Liu Jingjun and other kidnapped children, visit a special information section at ChinaGeeks. To learn more about the documentary film, which is currently soliciting donations to continue production, visit the film’s official site or watch the trailer below.

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