Authorities in China are investigating reports that about 20 babies born in violation of population-control policies were abducted and then trafficked into adoption by officials.
The investigation comes after Caixin magazine reported this week that family planning officials in central China’s Hunan province had abducted children and sold them internationally – some to people in the United States and the Netherlands.
Chinese officials do not always enforce the “one child” policy with much vigour and the worst that violators normally expect is a fine.
The case, which is not the first to accuse Chinese family planning officials of abusing population control policies for profit, sheds further light on the uneven implementation of child-population-control policy.
One family claimed they had not broken the law as the child was their first, but family planning “enforcers” nonetheless took the baby away.
“They mistook my daughter for being illegal when my wife and I were working in Shenzhen,” migrant worker Yang Libing told the magazine.
Mr Yang said he had tracked down his daughter, now seven years old and living in the United States.
Family planning officials in Longhui county allegedly received $142 for each child handed over to welfare agencies, which in turn received up to $2,760 for each child put up for adoption overseas, it said.
The abductions peaked in the middle of the last decade but had been occurring for 10 years, the magazine said.
Trafficking of women and children remains a serious problem in China, with many sociologists blaming the one child policy for fuelling the crime.
Under the policy, aimed at controlling China’s world-leading population of more than 1.3 billion, people who live in urban areas are generally allowed one child, while rural families can have two if the first is a girl.
This has put a premium on baby boys, while baby girls are often sold off, abandoned or put up for adoption.
Official penalties for violating the policy vary based on location, but usually include a fine. Rights groups however allege that much more draconian measures are often taken.
In a report released in December, the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) cited widespread abuse including forced abortions, sterilisations, insertions of intrauterine devices and coerced testing for pregnancy.
Both men and women found to have violated the policy have been beaten, detained, or fined. Others have lost their jobs, or been denied household registration permits for their children, CHRD alleged.
China is battling a severe gender imbalance. A census recently completed in the country found 118.06 males were born in China to every 100 baby girls over the past 10 years.
Up to 80,000 Chinese children have reportedly been adopted by overseas families in recent decades, with most finding homes in the United States.