China has sacked and punished 23 civil affairs officials in Hengyang, Hunan Province, for their involvement and negligence of duties in child-trafficking cases, in a move to crack down on orphanages profiting from abducted infants.
Chen Ming, former head of Hengdong Social Welfare Home, was sentenced to one year in prison. The heads of Hengyang and Hengdong county civil affairs bureaus Deng Guangyang and Zhou Liqun, among others, were sacked for their negligence of duties.
Six county-level social welfare homes in Hengyang were accused of buying abducted infants from human-traffickers starting from December 2002. In 2005 alone, the homes bought 78 abducted infants.
These social welfare homes then let foreigners and Chinese citizens adopt these abducted children on the condition of "making donations."
"We will not shield any involved officials. Every official held responsible will be punished," said Yu Changming, head of the Department of Civil Affairs of Hunan Province.
Yu's department sent a task force to Hengyang to investigate the cases upon learning of the illegal activity.
"The suspects said that they were doing good work to save the abducted children from death. However, we found that they paid more to buy children when there was demand," said Lei Dongsheng, a local police chief.
"They are selling babies for money," Lei said. Foreigners made donations of up to 3,000 U.S. dollars to adopt a child from the six social welfare homes.
The Hengyang government ordered police to investigate the case thoroughly and bring suspects to court. The authorities were trying to track down the sold babies.
"A social welfare home is the place that shows society's love towards orphans. It is so disgusting that these homes bought and sold babies," a local resident in Hengyang said.
Human traffickers Liang Guihong, Duan Meilin and Dai Chao were sentenced to 15 years in prison with a penalty of 50,000 yuan (6,250 U.S. dollars) each. The other six human traffickers were handed sentences between three and 13 years.
The court heard that the convicted human traffickers bought infants from Wuchuan and Zhanjiang of South China's Guangdong Province and sold them to social welfare homes in Hengyang, Hunan at the price of 3,200-4,300 yuan (400 to 538 dollars) each.
The social welfare homes knowingly bought the abducted children and forged orphan certificates for them, enabling foreigners and Chinese people, who made considerable donations, to adopt them.
The child-trafficking case was discovered by local police when an orphanage director was buying three baby girls from human traffickers at the crowded Hengyang railway station on November 17,2005.