China Power

Microblogs Fight Child Trafficking

The case of kidnapped Peng Wenle has shone a spotlight on Chinese microblogs and child begging.

Facebook and Twitter might be impossible to access here in China, but we still have something called microblogs. Millions of users are able to take advantage of these (after sensitive words have been filtered out by the relevant authorities), and they’ve actually been very big news this Chinese New Year period.

The reason microblogs have been hitting the headlines is thanks to a campaign to help ‘rescue’ children who have been kidnapped and who are then used as child beggars. On 25 January, a professor from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences published a short article on his microblog titled ‘Save child beggars by taking photos of them as and when you see them.’ The professor hoped to harness the power of microbloggers to help provide leads in the search for missing children. The number of ‘fans’ of the professor's microblog has already passed the 150,000 mark.

Child beggars aren’t an unusual sight in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Many of them have been kidnapped and even deliberately crippled to make them more ‘appealing’ for when they’re begging for money.

The professor’s campaign represents a real opportunity to change these children’s lives, and the booming interest means there are already thousands of microblogs focusing on the issue, with hundreds of mobile phone camera snapshots having been taken by users and uploaded to blogs.

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And there’s been at least one high-profile success. Peng Wenle, who was snatched from outside his family’s small shop in Shenzhen three years ago, was reunited with his family last week. Peng Gaofeng had posted pictures of his missing son on a microblog, and was contacted by a university student who had seen a child that looked like Wenle. The student snapped a picture, sent it to Gaofeng, and the rest is history.

For me, this campaign highlights three points—the growing power of the Internet, rising concern in Chinese society for the vulnerable and less fortunate, and a growing understanding of the problem of child trafficking.

The official People's Daily and grassroots forums have been warmly complimenting the microblogging anti-child trafficking campaign. The police are also full of praise, and have been following up on the leads published on these sites. Indeed, the People's Daily has gone as far as to describe the campaign an Internet 'miracle'.

China's rapid economic growth and the widespread use of the Internet have allowed Chinese to improve basic civic awareness. This comes at a time when the power of China's middle class intellectuals has been growing. Members of this group have higher average incomes than many Chinese, a higher social status and broader relationships. They also tend to have more rational and pluralistic views on social issues, and are more willing to participate in social causes. The campaign against child trafficking is now giving them a chance to really showcase their growing influence.