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Harsh Sentence Provides Little Comfort in China Human Trafficking Scandal

  • VOA News

FILE - Zhang Shuxia, an obstetrician involved in baby trafficking, stands trial in Weinan Intermediate People's Court in Weinan, Shaanxi province.

FILE - Zhang Shuxia, an obstetrician involved in baby trafficking, stands trial in Weinan Intermediate People's Court in Weinan, Shaanxi province.

Chinese authorities have handed down a harsh sentence in the country's latest human trafficking scandal, but it is of little comfort to the hundreds of thousands who have lost their children over the years.

Five years ago, human traffickers drugged Wu Xinghu and his wife while they slept in their home in China’s Northern province of Shaanxi. When the couple awoke, their newborn, Jiacheng, was missing.

Human trafficking, especially involving children, is a long-standing problem in China. Statistics on the crime are scant, but analysts estimate at least 200,000 children are lost every year to trafficking. Few are later recovered.

Wu said he is not convinced the situation will get any better for parents like him. “People are, in fact, indifferent to these children's stories,” he said. “Many are looking in, but nobody takes action.”

China’s courts are taking some action, though for some, it may not be enough.

In a case unrelated to the disappearance of Wu Xinghu's child, former obstetrician Zhang Shuxia in Shaanxi province, was given a suspended death sentence Tuesday for trafficking infants under her care. Her sentence ends a trial that deeply touched the public in China.

History of such crimes

According to the court, Zhang sold seven babies to traffickers when she was a doctor. She received $3,300 for a female newborn or $7,700 for a male, the court said. She would deceive parents into thinking their children had died, or were gravely ill. Of the seven, one child died and was abandoned in a garbage ditch by the trafficker whom Zhang had sold the baby to. The other six were safely returned to their families after Zhang was arrested.

The court was not able to ascertain responsibility for the death of the child.

Throughout the trial, which started last August, many in China called for the courts to give Zhang the harshest sentence because, as a maternity doctor, she had special responsibilities to protect her patients.

“In her capacity as medical personnel, the defendant Zhang Shuxia used her diagnostic knowledge to fabricate incurable diseases and lie about body deformities to traffic new born babies,” said the court.

Criminal lawyer Tang Hongxin said that Zhang's verdict shows that courts in China are exercising increasing pressure regarding crimes against women and children.

“The conclusion of this case is a deliberate show of strength to act as a warning for other offenders involved in similar crimes,” he said.

But as the verdict was announced on Tuesday, some reacted with disappointment. In China, a suspended death sentence can be commuted to life in prison or even 15 or 20 years if the prisoner does not commit crimes during the first two years of imprisonment.

“What is the reason for the suspended sentence,” wrote a lawyer surnamed Zhang on his microblog account. “They should execute the death penalty immediately.”

Enforcing ethics

Shi Pu, a professor of finance, wrote on his twitter-like Weibo account that there are two professions where chaos is not allowed.

“One is doctors who cure and save, the other is professors who teach and educate,” he wrote on Tuesday. "If you violate the profession's ethics, then this society loses all cleanness."

For some whose children have long disappeared to traffickers, a trial will not solve the systemic problems of people profiting from the sale of babies in the countryside.

“People at the hospital had to know about it, they all use their position of power to sell babies,” said Wu. He said what happened in Zhang's hospital is not unusual, and it often entails a network of institutional protection.

“She was a scapegoat when the case became too big to be covered up,” he said.

According to Chinese media, five local officials have been fired following the human trafficking scandal, including the hospital's chief and the head of the local health department.