2018-06-26 11:23:11

A 31-year-old mother in central Hunan province who allegedly tried to hawk her newborn for 60,000 yuan ($9,200) is being investigated along with five others for taking part in a baby trafficking ring.

Police caught the mother — surnamed Zhu — and two agents at a private maternal hospital in Yiyang City on Thursday as she attempted to sell her baby boy only five days after he was born, Xiaoxiang Morning Post reported in an article that’s since been taken offline.

In a statement on Monday, police said that they had taken six people — including Zhu and an agent surnamed Xiao — into custody suspected of illegal baby trafficking, a crime that carries a possible death penalty. The case is still under investigation.

According to the report, Zhu told undercover reporters from Xiaoxiang Morning Post who posed as potential buyers: “Don’t worry, I have another child at home, I also hope that we don’t have any contact in the future.” Zhu would have taken home 40,000 yuan, while her agents would have pocketed 20,000 yuan.

There’s a huge demand for adoption in China, but cumbersome processes and strict legal requirements for adopters prevent some wannabe parents from going through official channels. That’s where newborn sellers come in, offering babies for anywhere between 60,000 to 90,000 yuan under the guise of a “free adoption,” according to the report. Agents even help expecting mothers use false identities when they go into hospital to give birth, and then forge birth certificates for buyers.

The reporters were tipped off to the ring by long-time anti-human trafficking vigilante, Shangguan Zhengyi — not his real name. On June 17, two videos of an infant were shared in a chat group on messaging app WeChat which he had been covertly following for months. “We have just had a healthy newborn baby boy. If anyone wants him, come quick!” the group admin wrote, adding that the “adopters” would have to pay 60,000 yuan in cash as a “nutrition fee” to help the mother recover.

Within minutes, Shangguan, a retired soldier, sent a message expressing his interest in “adopting” the boy. “In the past, people in the group chat have been quite cautious. Buyers and sellers quit the group chat as soon as they have made a deal,” he told Sixth Tone on a phone interview. “This time, I couldn’t bear to see another child being sold.”

The group had more than 100 members and had set requirements for buyers and sellers. Buyers had to be infertile couples with identity cards, a marriage certificate, and a valid hukou — a household registration permit allowing them to be an official resident of a city. As for the sellers, the mother could either be an unmarried woman who accidentally got pregnant or a married woman unable to raise the child, and the father also had to agree to sell their newborn. The admin said she could guarantee that every message sent was 100 percent authentic.

On Wednesday, Shangguan met the group admin surnamed Xiao in a teahouse near Yiyang Modern Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Xiao allegedly told him that she’d made quite a lot “successful deals” as she had “relationships” in this hospital and other private maternal hospitals. She said she could provide fake birth certificates for around 50,000 yuan so the children could get a hukou.

A sample “adoption agreement,” which Xiao showed to Shangguan, read: “I’m willing to give my son to good people for free. I hope you can raise him in kindness, and I will never, ever, try to find my child.”

Xiao said they needed to highlight that the deal was free as China’s law prohibits child trading, but she insisted that the contract was safe. “If the mother regretted it in the future, the first person to be caught would be herself,” Xiao told Shangguan and the undercover reporters.

Shangguan told Sixth Tone that in most cases when such “adoptions” are discovered, babies would be sent back to their birth parents if they apologized for their actions. “The local women’s federation and civil affairs bureau will continue checking on the children until they turn 18,” he said. In the most serious cases, courts would remove the child from their birth parents’ custody.

Shangguan added that adoption is only legal with official approval, but he urged authorities to loosen requirements for adopters, which include a rule that a single father must be 40 years older than a female child. “The current strict adoption requirements have made many infertile couples risk falling foul of the law out of desperation,” he said.

Editor: Julia Hollingsworth.

(Header image: Newborn babies at a hospital in Huainan, Anhui province, Oct. 1, 2017. Chen Bin/VCG)