UNTIL early last year, Gong Hao was just another pampered only
child in China.
Then, on the morning of Feb. 25, on his way to school, the
roly-poly 12-year-old was grabbed by a man asking directions,
bundled into a waiting taxi, blindfolded, and hustled away - a new
statistic in the mounting incidents of kidnapping in China.
Thousands of kidnappings have taken place amid the upheaval of
economic and social change and mounting lawlessness. As economic
reforms have unhinged the government's tight social grip in recent
years, harsh birth-control restrictions have created a desperate
demand for children, and social vices such as prostitution have
resurfaced; trafficking in women and children, increasingly in
complicity with police, has become a scourge in cities and the
The boy, who is endearingly nicknamed Pangzi, or Fatty, retells
the experience only with prompting from his father. During his
105-day captivity, which took him from this central Chinese city
across four provinces, Pangzi was beaten, burned with cigarettes,
and forced to work in the fields. Often resorting to begging, the
boy lost almost half of his 120-pound weight.
Sitting in his family's cluttered, two-room home, he is once
again his old chubby self, his parents say. Yet he never goes out
unaccompanied nor do the couple let down their guard. Receiving
virtually no help from the police, the family exhausted its $700 in
savings searching for their son. Now, they have taken out a $450
insurance policy on him, in case he ever disappears again.
"We had heard about women and children being kidnapped, but we
never thought it would happen to our son," says Gong Ping, an
electrician at a Wuhan appliance factory. "I think the root cause
of this is the corruption in our society."
In recent months, the Chinese press has reported that the
kidnapping outbreak is spreading: Nannies in Beijing are selling
children; a gang of Sichuan farmers sold more than 80 children and
five women in a six-year-period; children in Shanghai have been
kidnapped after their parents were drugged; two old women in
Zhejiang Province traded off 36 children; and rural women in
Guangxi Province, lured to cities with promises of jobs, have been
raped and then sold for prostitution.
According to the official Legal Daily, more than 50,000
abductions of women and children were reported in 1991-1992. The
newspaper claimed that almost 90 percent were rescued and that
75,000 kidnappers were arrested.
Chinese observers blame the outbreak on the rise in prostitution
and on the harsh one-child family planning policy. With only one
child allowed per family and sons preferred over daughters, child
abandonment is on the rise, and farmers are often willing to pay
large sums to buy a desperately wanted son.
Chinese authorities quoted in the press estimate that
three-quarters of the kidnappings are rooted in economic disputes
and inadequate legal protections. …