It turns out that Chinese social media is not only for popularizing ridiculous fitness challenges, but can also be used, from time to time, to draw attention to more serious social issues. In the past few days, an appeal to institute the death penalty against all those convicted of child trafficking has gained a significant following online and launched a substantial debate on the subject.
The campaign was initiated with a photo captioned: “China should change its legislation on child trafficking. People trafficking children should be sentenced to death. Why should they be given a second chance when the children they harmed don’t get any?” In less than two days, the post has been viewed more than 1.5 million times on Weibo and has been shared by thousands of supporters on Weibo and WeChat.
Advocates behind the campaign said they were stirred to action after following news reports of a child trafficking case prosecuted last month in Henan. Of the 37 suspects, only the prime suspect received a death sentence, while the other members of the gang were given a maximum of 15 years in prison with the buyers involved being sentenced to just seven months.
A recent poll on Sina found that 88.3 percent of the more than 21,000 respondents were unsatisfied with China’s crackdown on child trafficking with 92.5 percent recommending that the same punishment imposed on traffickers should also be applied to buyers in order to stop the lucrative trade in children.
Earlier today, CCTV News reported on the debate raging online and said that the argument centers mainly around whether capital punishment will be able to stop child trafficking. The scholars and sociologists they talked to happened to all agree that it would not and that the crimes must be handled rationally with more severe punishments doled out to buyers in order to bring down the great demand that makes profits so enticingly high for child traffickers.
Moreover, CCTV quoted Jiang Xiaoyan, a legal scholar, who said that we must think of the children before electing to administer the death penalty on their kidnappers: “If all child traffickers were sentenced to death, the criminals will turn to desperados and the abducted children will be in danger (they may kill them).”
CCTV also spoke with Gu Yongzhong, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, who argued against the efficacy of laws altogether: “The power of penal laws is actually limited. Although [there is a Chinese saying that] ‘a murderer must repay with his own life’ but murders have never been stopped.”
Currently China only sentences human traffickers to death in severe cases—including those who organized large-scale child trafficking gangs or used violence to abduct children. Child traffickers are generally given five to 10 years in prison depending on the nature of their crimes.
Child trafficking is a serious problem in China and the extent of the problem is not reliably known. Traffickers capitalize on the huge demand for healthy babies, particularly boys, brought on as unintended consequence of the one-child policy and traditional attitudes in China valuing sons over daughters. China now has a national anti-kiddnapping taskforce that carries out high-profile raids that sometimes liberate hundreds (or thousands) of kidnapped children.
The exact scale of child trafficking is hard to know since official data is difficult to come by. CCTV reports that 7,700 human trafficking cases were reported in China from 2010 to 2014 with more than 12,900 traffickers and buyers punished. The number of cases has been decreasing since 2013.
by Alex Linder
[Images via Weibo & CCTV]