Google Maps links families back together

Clotilde Lerévérend, translated by Florence Carré
31 Mai 2013

In China, kidnappings are very common. But sometimes, thanks to the internet, children, now grown-ups, can find their parents, even after a 23-years separation.

A man standing in front of a poster notifying a kidnapping
A man standing in front of a poster notifying a kidnapping
5-year-old Luo Gong was kidnapped while he was heading down to school. Then he was taken more than 1000 km (621,37 mi) away from his home to another city of the Fujian region. The child didn’t know his city’s name and therefore didn’t have any chance to come back home. 23 years later, the internet emerged. He went on the Baobeihuijia platform –a website dedicated to split families - where he decided to read ads and was informed that one family lost its son 23 years ago. Thanks to other internet users, he managed to have access to this specific ad and decided to enter in Google Maps the name of the city in question. The only memory he had from his childhood’s place was the presence of two gates in his neighbourhood. Through Google Maps, he crossed streets of the city and eventually found the two gates he remembered from his past. So he decided to take the plunge and to go there. Today, he is really glad he did so, since he finally found his family. 
This is one story among many others, which enlightens the common but hidden kidnappings issue in China. Two years before, the Wenle’s story had already shaken the country. This 3-year-old boy was kidnapped in 2008 in the southern city of Shenzen, near his parents’ store. The little Wenle also succeeded in finding his family thanks to the internet, 3 years after he was kidnapped. The only track of the kidnapping was a surveillance video showing a man who goes away with the boy. Then a journalist published his picture on his Sina Weibo account, the Chinese version of Twitter, which allowed an internet user to identify the child. DNA testing next confirmed the kinship.

A common habit backed by the state

According to official figures, between 8.000 and 15.000 children, among which three quarters are boys, disappear each year in China, as the casualties of a “human traffic”, not really handled by the authorities. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the figures provided by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in persons of the US Department of State, show that the number of victim children is thought to vary between 20.000 and 70.000 per year -that is to say: a figure much more significant than the one given by the Chinese authorities.
Nobody seems to fight against this business resulting from the one-child policy. This policy might have been adopted in cities, but it wasn’t really the case in the countryside where the descendants often are the only guarantee in case of death, health problems or simply old age. Indeed, after their marriage, daughters belong to their family-in-law, sons are therefore the ones who have to take care of their parents’ old days. In many villages, a family without descendant is rejected and scorned by neighbourhood. And meanwhile a lot of peasants have enriched, soon the question of inheritance is being asked. To whom do you hand down your possessions when you don’t have any son?
Some are ready to pay a high price -up to 5.000 euros- to buy a descendant. There are three types of purchasers: families without children, those only with girls and those with one boy but who want several descendants to fit into the traditional family picture.

Local authorities keep ignoring it. Hardly anyone find fault with this phenomenon giving that eventually, adoptive parents pay a high price and take care of the child. Besides, there is barely any judicial proceeding against them. Even the few who are confounded are not condemned. Yet the custom seems to be tacitly authorised. Moreover, kidnappers do not have a lot to fear giving that it only exits few cases of condemnations, even though the law provides the maximum penalty for kidnapping.

Though the internet -unique space assuring the freedom of expression - allows sometimes families to be back together, broadcasting pictures of the disappeared child online is still absolutely forbidden. In addition, any demonstration, even the most pacifist one, is considered an offence to public order.