Buyers of abducted children in China will face criminal punishment under proposed laws that would remove an exemption from prosecution, reports said Thursday, as authorities clamp down on the flourishing child trafficking industry.
More than 13,000 children were rescued by police in China last year, the China Daily said, with demand for stolen youngsters fueled by a traditional preference for sons and a one-child limit for some couples.
Current law imposes harsh sentences for child trafficking, including the death penalty in certain cases.
Buyers of kidnapped children can be sentenced to up to three years in jail, but are exempt from criminal proceedings if they have not abused the children or obstructed efforts to rescue them.
The revised criminal law will eliminate the exception and "increase penalties for those who buy children", the state-run newspaper said, without specifying potential sentences.
"Buyers would receive a less severe penalty if they did not abuse the child or attempt to hinder rescue efforts," it added.
The revised law was welcomed by Feng Jianlin, a father from Shanxi province in northern China whose daughter was kidnapped in 2008 when she was nine.
"I think those who buy children should be punished, and the proposed law will promote China's anti-baby trafficking campaign," said Feng, who has set up an information-sharing website which has seen 14 children reunited with their biological parents.
"Currently people do not break the law if they buy children, so the trafficking business is rampant in China," he added.
Parents of missing children commonly use the Internet to search for their offspring, and thousands have posted photos of babies and toddlers on website Baby Come Home, as well as sharing information on Feng's website.
Babies in mortuaries
Child trafficking has grown into a huge problem in China, where this year alone police have broken up criminal gangs found keeping babies in disused mortuaries and confining pregnant women to factories before selling their newborns.
Earlier this year, a Chinese mother in the central province of Henan was charged with human trafficking for allegedly conspiring with a doctor to sell her baby boy for almost US$7,000.
In 2013, several families in Shaanxi province accused a doctor of persuading them to give up their children shortly after birth, allegations that led to a number of local officials being sacked.
Almost 13,000 people involved in human trafficking were punished between 2010 and last year, the China Daily said, citing the Supreme People's Court.
More than half of those convicted received sentences ranging from five years in prison to death.
The new criminal law was submitted Wednesday to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament.
Other revisions include harsher punishments for those involved in "cults or superstitious activities", and widening the list of activities that can be defined as "terrorism", state news agency Xinhua said.
China has previously cracked down harshly on groups it labels "cults", most notably the Falungong spiritual movement, which was banned in the late 1990s.
More recently the outlawed "Quannengshen" — which can be translated as the Church of Almighty God — has been targeted.
A father and daughter who belonged to Quannengshen were executed in February, having been convicted of beating a woman to death at a McDonald's restaurant, reportedly after she rebuffed their attempts to recruit her.
China has also rolled out tough measures to confront what it labels "terrorism" in the largely Muslim region of Xinjiang, sentencing to death scores of people while hundreds have been jailed or detained. AFP