Eighty-nine rescued babies will not be returned to the people who bought them, the Ministry of Public Security announced on Wednesday, unlike the 29 who they gave back to the buyers in the last anti-trafficking crackdown in June.
Unable to find the birth parents after a Shandong Province crackdown last month, police opted to return those infants to their original buyers, a move lambasted as encouraging the underground baby trade.
The 89 recovered in this latest high-profile crackdown will instead be sent to welfare centers before locating their birth parents, the ministry announced.
Most were newborns, the youngest 10 days old. Some were sent to hospital for treatment, while the rest have been temporarily settled in welfare centers around the country.
Police remain concerned the seemingly healthy babies might also have serious brain damage as they were probably overdosed with sleeping pills during trafficking, People’s Daily reported on Wednesday.
Those caught trafficking children face a maximum 10 years’ imprisonment under Chinese law, but buyers of an abducted child face a maximum three years, many receiving no punishment at all.
The massive, lucrative baby market is a major motivation for traffickers, Chen Shiqu, director of the ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, told the official newspaper.
Not returning the stolen underground babies to their buyers would “send a strong signal,” Chen said.
The ministry announced on its website on Wednesday it had cracked two networks over the last two weeks, netting 369 trafficking suspects in different provinces and autonomous regions around the country.
Police had also seized eight infants from Vietnamese traffickers on July 15 in Guangdong Province and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, according to the ministry.
China has handled more than 40,000 human trafficking cases since April 2009, rescuing 15,000 abducted children and detaining 30,000 suspects, according to ministry statistics.