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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: February 27, 2011 NO. 9 MARCH 3, 2011
Saving Child Panhandlers
Netizens launch an Internet campaign helping authorities save children forced into begging for money

So far, thousands of pictures have been uploaded.

Authorities' participation

Zhang Zhiwei, a lawyer and volunteer with the non-government organization Baby Come Home, said the rapidly expanding campaign showed the micro-blog is exerting a growing influence on society and it can play a role in altering legislation and policies.

However, he emphasized such online activity needs to be better coordinated with government departments and NGOs dedicated to rescuing panhandling children, because the increasing number of photos will mean nothing without sorting, analysis and comparison.

"Whenever we see a micro-blog revealing a possible abduction case, we pass on the information to the police for verification," Yu said. "Our volunteers are sorting out all the sources. We will try to set up a child panhandler database for further investigation."

"The micro-blog cannot play a key role in rescue work. We still need to turn to the government for more reliable and effective measures," he said.

On February 10, the Ministry of Public Security said the public could dial 110, a police hotline, if they suspected children were being organized or forced to beg on the streets.

"Addressing child trafficking and organized begging by minors needs the joint effort of all sectors of society," said Chen Shiqu, director of the ministry's anti-trafficking office.

Chen said once the police received a report from the public, they would rush to the scene and investigate the case.

"Police will take minors whose blood relationship and identity cannot be determined, or those suspected of being abducted. Parents or relatives who use children for begging will be informed of laws and could face punishment," Chen said.

In addition, the police will take blood samples of minors whose identities are unclear and their DNA records will be included in the national anti-trafficking DNA database, according to Chen.

Since April 2009, when the Ministry of Public Security launched a special campaign to combat trafficking of women and children, 5,900 criminal cases involving trafficking children have been uncovered, with 9,300 abducted children rescued by police, according to statistics released by the ministry.

Meanwhile, many local authorities have also responded positively and taken measures to intensify anti-child trafficking efforts.

In east China's Zhejiang Province, an anti-abduction organization led by local police and joined by 31 government authorities was established.

In Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, local police initiated a campaign on February 10 to crack down on trafficking or manipulating minors to beg in the street.

The police in Guangzhou announced on February 11 it would continue using DNA information from juvenile panhandlers to help lost or abducted children reunite with their families.

Lost children who are delivered to police would have their DNA recorded for matching, said police authorities.

During the past two years, Guangzhou police have rescued 27 abducted children and helped five of them reunite with their families through DNA tests.

Going further

"We didn't expect it to become such a big campaign when we initiated the child-rescue micro-blogs, and now we want to put it on the right track," Yu said.

More than 30 activists, including lawyers, scholars and celebrities, met in Beijing on February 12 on the child rescue campaign.

A special fund to provide long-term help for the nationwide crackdown on child begging will be set up in the near future, said Yang Peng, Secretary General of the Shenzhen-based charity One Foundation, after the meeting.

"The campaign needs to be more sustainable and more organized, which demands management and money," Yang told Xinhua News Agency.

The fund would help transfer warm-hearted people's enthusiasm into sustainable aid, he said.

One Foundation, which was founded by action star Jet Li, had committed at least 200,000 yuan ($29,283) as the initial fund for the project, Yu said.

"Both civil affairs and public security departments are welcomed to send their delegates to join the management team of the fund," he said. "This should help facilitate cooperation and information sharing with the government."

"The fund will mainly sponsor child panhandler's return to school, offer help to communities that receive rescued children and provide basic financial support for volunteers participating in the campaign," said Li Chengpeng, a member of the preparatory committee of the fund.

However, the root cause of child trafficking should also be addressed when designing measures to help child panhandlers, Li said.

"Poverty, no access to education and many other factors that force children into begging should be addressed. Otherwise those children will be left in a worse situation," he said

"It is only with a sound social security system that we can ensure the survival of children from impoverished families and stop them from begging in the street," said Chen Tianben, a professor at the Chinese People's Public Security University.

A motion to ban child begging and help those who have been rescued will be submitted to the National People's Congress during this year's plenary session of the lawmaking body in March, according to Yu.

"Our main purpose is to increase the awareness of the country's top legislature on this issue and to call on different government departments to take concrete measures to guarantee all children's rights and send child panhandlers back home and make sure they can live a normal life again," Yu said.

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