Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) Farmers in Gaoping County (Hunan province) have accused family planning officials of stealing 12 unregistered children i.e. born outside China's one 'child policy'over the past four years and demanding ransoms for their return. County officials counter saying the children were taken in accordance with national policy and the villagers voluntarily gave them up.
About 60 residents have signed a petition insisting on the return of 11 missing children they claim were violently taken from their homes by the officials. The 12th child, an adopted boy, was reportedly released after 29 days following the intervention of a delegate to the National People's Congress.
The farmers said officials took away four natural and seven adopted girls charging several thousand yuan each for their return. Three of the biological children were from unregistered marriages and only one was in breach of family planning policies.
Yang Libing, a 42-year-old man from Fengxing village, said his de facto wife gave birth to a girl in July 2004 and even though she was their first child, the county's family planning officers took the infant away on April 29 last year citing an "unregistered marriage and an illegal child".
Mr Yang said the office demanded 8,000 yuan for the baby's return, a price that rose to 20,000 yuan several days later. The average annual farming income is 3,000 yuan.
"We are poor people and my relatives were not able to collect so much money in several days," Mr Yang said.
He said officials told him the child had been sent to an orphanage. "I don't know where my daughter is and I went to the family planning office several times but was ignored."
Mr Yang said a family planning official named Liu Shude told him: "You won't be able to find the girl now even if you could offer 1 million yuan, so give up hope. We can find another girl for you or allow you to have two children in future."
Yuan Xinquan, a farmer from Maoping village, said his child was also taken away. Mr Yuan said he met his de facto wife, Sun Ge, while working in Hebei in 2004, and Ms Sun gave birth to a girl on November 2 last year.
He said several family planning officials seized the child from the roadside as the family was walking home on November 25 and demanded a 6,000 yuan ransom for her return.
"I still don't know where my little girl is," Mr Yuan said. "They broke up my family because my wife left me after I was not able to get the infant back."
Another Maoping villager, 27-year-old Yuan Mingsheng, said his 26-year-old wife, Yang Shunzhen, gave birth to a girl in June 2001, but the infant was taken a year later when her grandmother took the child to hospital.
Fengxing villager Yuan Zhengnan, 48, said his third daughter was taken away in September 2004 while she was playing with her grandfather. Since then they have not had any news about the missing child.
"I know giving birth to a third daughter is breaching the country's family planning policy, but they can't take my baby away," Mr Yuan said. He said the office told him the girl was sent to an orphanage, but refused to say which one.
In addition to the four biological children, at least seven adopted children were said to have been snatched by officials in recent years.
Yuan Chaorong, a 43-year-old single farmer from Xishandong village, said he adopted a girl abandoned in Dongguan, Guangdong, whilst he was working in the city and took her home in December 2004.
Mr Yuan said he reported the adoption to the village and tried to get an adoption certificate but four family planning officials stormed his house and took the child away on July 28 last year because she had been "illegally adopted".
"They later asked for 8,000 yuan to get her back. This is just kidnapping," he said.
Mr Yuan said the county's party chief, Tian Changjin, told him he could help with the adoption of another child, but "don't ask me about the girl because she was not taken away by me".
Yuan Mingyou, from Dashi village, said he and his wife adopted a girl in 1999 while working as bread sellers in Wuhan, Hubei. He said he paid a 2,000 yuan "adoption fee" to the local police station in 2002 and police registered the girl.
But on July 29 that year four family planning officials went into his house and took the three-year-old girl away, later "fining" him 30,000 yuan for the child. He said he could not raise the money and the girl was still missing.
About 60 villagers signed a petition in December demanding the children's return. The villagers also accused staff from the family planning office of illegally detaining and beating them when they went to the office to try to get the children. They said one elderly woman, Hu Xiangquan, was beaten into a coma at the hands of officials in December.
County family planning official Li Zijian admitted the office took the 11 children away, but insisted the office was only following state law and policy. He said all of the children were illegally adopted and the villagers had voluntarily given them up for adoption instead of paying fines.
"We do not rule out the possibility that there are biological children [among the 11 children], but the villagers themselves told us these children were all adopted," Mr Li said.
He said families that exceeded state-sanctioned quotas would be fined, but anybody giving up an illegally adopted child would not be punished, perhaps prompting some farmers to lie and say a biological child was adopted.
"They later gave up the children by signing documents with us," Mr Li said. "As you can see, all of the 11 children we took away are girls."
Mr Li also referred to state law and local policy, saying a couple with two children was not allowed to adopt a child, and a single man should be more than 40 years older than a girl he wanted to adopt.
"According to these regulations, the adoptions were all illegal," he said.
County family planning office director Zhou Xiaofang defended himself saying: "We just took away the illegally adopted girls. These children were all sent to the Shaoyang Orphanage."
Ms Zhou also said their charges were reasonable because the family planning policy allowed the imposition of fines that were double the family's total annual income.
The authorities denied physically abusing villagers.
The villagers said they never lied about whether the children were biological or adopted offspring and did not sign them away. Some said officials cheated or forced them into putting their fingerprints on documents about the children's origins.
Lawyer Liu Xin, from the Guangdong E-time Law Firm, said the family planning office had committed a serious breach of the law by taking the children away.
"The office can only impose fines on the parents if they are offenders," Mr Liu said. "Taking the children away represents a deprivation of personal freedoms and is illegal."
Under China's one-child policy, most urban families can have only one child, but rural families are allowed to have two if the first child is female or handicapped. Ethnic groups are usually exempt from the one-child limit.