Criminal Exploitation of Women and Children in China
Robert F.J. Harnischmacher*
Nature and Extent of Criminal Exploitation of Women and Children in China
exploitation of women and children” is a broad concept.
It may embrace many types of crime.
A typical example is the prostitution controlled by criminal
organizations. In China, however,
the most serious criminal exploitation of women and children is the crime of
abducting and trafficking women or children.
In fact, through government effective control and severe punishment, this
kind of crime was completely eliminated after the People’s Republic of China
was established in 1949. However,
this kind of crime was emerged again in China later 1970s.
And since 1980s, this kind of crime became a more and more serious.
exploitation of women and children is popular around the world. It
has been reported that there are many women and children who have been abducted
and sold to buyers in the United States. Those
victims are forced to be prostitutes or cheap labors.
In November 1999, one CIA’s report revealed that more then 50,000 women
and children who were from Asia, Latin America and the Eastern Europe were
abducted and trafficked to the United States.
It has been further reported that profit from this kind of crime reached
USD 7 billion.
is true that many women have been abducted and trafficked to jurisdictions
outside China, especially to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao.
Most of them have been forced to engage in prostitution.
There are various reasons to explain this kind of crime.
However, one should bear in mind that in China, the crime of exploitation
of women and children may contribute to its unique social reasons.
The reasons of this phenomenon are comprehensive.
It is impossible to explain this kind of crime just by quoting one or two
reasons. According to the existing information in China, it is possible to put
forward to the following reasons, which may reflect the unique situation in
(1) Ideological Problem
fundamental reason is contributed to the feudal ideology and poor economic
situation in remote countryside, such as villages in Anhui Province or Jiangsu
Province. It has been reported that most buyers are from under-developed areas.
People there usually have deeply rooted feudal ideology. Thus, it is reasonable
to say that the crime of abducting and trafficking women and children usually
connects with feudalism, ignorance, under-development and poverty. Thus, a boy
is purchased to be expected to support the buyer when his/her is getting older (yang
er fang lao), while a wife is purchased because the buyer is usually poor
situation and no woman wants to marry him by willingness. However, to get a wife
is mainly for someone’s desire to get subsequent generations (chuan zhong jie
dai). In China, local cadres are assumed to know laws and are models to enforce
government policies. In the said areas, however, the buyers are sometime cadres
of the villages because they want to get either a son or a wife. Some cadres go
to buyers’ families to drink the happy wine (xi jiu).
This creates a false image that to buy an abducted woman to be ones wife
is approved or recognized. Even the local police will close their eyes for such
illegal activities because buyers are usually their relatives or good friends.
In the extreme case, local police will hinder the rescuing work by releasing
important information to buyers, simply by no action at all. As for local
authorities that are in charge of birth policy,
they will not interfere the birth situation solely because those wives are from
other areas and their registered permanent residence are not belong to local
areas, thus, their birth situation will not affect the local birth control
(2) Economic Background
Another important reason is that there are markets for selling swindled
or abducted women or children. It is admitted that males in poor and remote
countryside are unable to get wives either because women are trying to escape
from their poverty by seeking a better life elsewhere, or because women from
other rich areas don’t want to go to those poor areas. In this situation,
abducted women become the best source for those men to get their wives because
those women will be isolated and helpless. It is also admitted that “one-child
policy” may affect those who want to have their sons. Thus, male children will be mostly welcome.
The buyer’s markets are active mainly because money buyers care only
for the price paid, but do not care for where those women and children come from.
In their eyes, it is reasonable to buy because they have paid the price. Due to
the ignorance of relevant laws and regulations, they believe that they are also
the victims if their purchased wives and sons are rescued and taken away. In one
case, the “husband” was arrested for rapping his 15 year old “wife” who
was purchased from a criminal. In the detention house, the “husband”
insisted that the police should return RMB 7,000 to him despite he was told that
his conduct had violated the provision of the criminal law. In his eye, the
police “snatched away” his “wife”.
Most probably, the buyers will try their best to hinder the rescuing work. In
a worse situation, buyers will use illegal force against law enforcement
personnel. In one case, a policeman was beaten to death by a buyer and his
(3) Lenient Punishment to Buyers
though the criminal law provides punishments to those who purchase women and/or
children, it is rare to hear that the buyers have been seriously punished,
partly because of an understanding that those buyers are also victims in certain
aspects. As the result of this lenient treatment, potential buyers do not have
fear of buying women and children.
(4) Ignorance of Law
mentioned somewhere, poor and ignorance usually go together.
In one case, criminals used written contracts to sell more than 10 women.
It is surprisingly seen that the contract contains formal languages as
such: in accordance the Chinese Civil Law Principles and the Contract Law, the
gift giver (seller in fact) and gift receiver (buyer in fact) agrees to
formulate this contract. Nobody can modify or cancel this contract unless this
has been done in accordance with relevant provisions of these laws. Under this
disguised contract, each woman was sold for the price between RMB 150,000 to
(5) Economic Incentive
is reported that the crime of abducting and trafficking women and children could
be very profitable. In accordance with Karl Marks’ Theory, the more profit the
business will generate, the likely the actor will ignore or break the existing
law. This is similar to the idea of criminal economy. In other words, the high
profit return will stimulate high incentive of committing this kind of crime, or
even facing severe punishment. It was reported that the price for selling one
child could be ranged from several thousand yuan to more than ten thousand yuan.
In one case, a baby girl who is less than one year old was
sold for RMB 1,500 yuan to be buyer’s “child wife”. Even though she was
rescued by the police, her life was in danger due to lack of care.
In another case, abducting and trafficking women and children
could generate income, which is equivalent to one year’s income in some poor
In addition, because there are high demands from the buyers,
criminals have strong incentive to commit this kind of crime again and again.
The Prosperous of Yellow Industry in China
China, yellow industry refers to prostitution business. Even though prostitution
is strictly prohibited in China, the government does not have sufficient force
to eliminate this phenomenon as it did in 1950s. It has been reported that so far, there are
more than 6 million prostitutes in China. Recently in Zhuhai,
Guangdong Province, there was a sensational case.
16 September 2003, a Japanese company held a party in Zhuhai
International Convention Hotel in order to reward the good performance of
employees. That night, more than 300 prostitutes were called to serve employees.
It was reported that on that night, 185 prostitutes completed their business and
the money paid amounted to more than 300,000 yuan. Many Chinese people were
shocked by this news and this case brought attention of  On 17 December 2003, 14 principal criminals were convicted for
organizing prostitution. The same day, the International Police China National
Center issued the red orders to search for three Japanese criminals.
In this case, one aspect should not be ignored: 300
prostitutes could be organized efficiently on a short notice.
other words, people can buy sex easily in China despite governmental effort to
crack yellow industry down. In order to get sufficient supply, abducted women or
children are highly demanded for yellow industry. In the follow example, it is
possible to see the real activities of abducting and trafficking women.
is the true case happened in Jiangsu Province. It was the biggest crime of
abducting and trafficking kidnapping and selling young girls in the Jiangsu
beng, beng! On 18 January 2001, three criminals, Zhang Hongdeng,
Shi Deping and Shi Yanli, were executed death penalty and all other criminals in
this largest crime in Jiangsu Province since the establishment of the People’s
Republic of China were given severe punishments. However, if we review this case
again, we can see the worst nightmare of the victims, the 50 young girls.
Sister Entrapped Younger Sister
this case, there were 5 principal criminals. Zhang Hongdeng and Shi Yanli were
husband and wife. Shi Yanli, Shi
Deping, Shi Deyong and Shi Yanhong were brothers and sisters of the same blood. The Shi family was located in a poor village
of the Jiangsu Province. Shi Deping was the eldest son and aged 35; Shi Yanli
was the second child and aged 31; Shi Yongde was the third child and aged 29;
and Shi Yanhong was the youngest one and aged 25. Among those four brothers and
sisters, only Shi Deping had a high school education and the other three had
only the education of primary school. In view of local people, these four
brothers and sisters were fond of food but averse to work.
They had never taken any serious jobs.
1994, the Chinese Spring Festival had just been over. Several creditors asked
Shi Yanli to repay the debts.Shi Yanli discussed this matter with her husband,
Zhang Hongdeng. Zhang Hongdeng
mentioned that his aunt, Zhang Meiling was engaging in prostitution business in
Hainan Province and earned a remarkable amount of money. Shi Yanlin thought this
was the best way to make quick money. She asked his husband to take care of
their child and went to the Hainan Island.
one year, Shi Yanli earned a lot of money through her prostitution business. On
the second day of the Chinese New Year, Shi Yanli went back to her village to
see her mother. Her mother was impressed by her daughter’s expensive dressing
up and asked Shi Yanli to bring the youngest daughter, Shi Yanhong, with her to
make more money.
Yanli took Shi Yanhong to the Hainan Island. On the first day of arrival, Shi
Yanhong was arranged to “work” as a prostitute. After
the “work”, Shi Yanhong cried and showed Shi Yanli her underwear, which
contained the blood. Shi Yanli told Shi Yanli that she was going to report this
rape case to the local police. Shi Yanli, however, was not surprised and tried
her best to convince Shi Yanhong that this was the only way to make more money.
After Shi Yanli’s “education”, Shi Yanli started to believe that nothing
could be lost again since she was no longer the virgin.
on this understanding, Shi Yanhong engaged in prostitution actively. In order to
recover her lost virgin, Shi Yanhong requested RMB 5,000
from her second “client” in the name of “sleeping with a virgin”. She
pretended to be virgin again and asked again RMB 5,000 from her third “client”.
Yanhong saw that a virgin could easily make big money and proposed Shi Yanli to
get more young girls from hometown. Shi Yanli thought this was a great idea and
instructed her husband, Zhang Hongdeng and her brothers, Shi Deping and Shi
Deyong to “recruit” young girls. Thus, a recruitment plan was made and
Young Girls and Forced them to be Prostitutes
they decided that their targets were young girls who were aged from 14 to 18.
They were from poor family, unable to continue study and had no idea of the
outside world. Zhang Hongdeng had rich experience of dealing with people and
knew some Chinese Gongfu. He took the role as “controller” and recruit young
girls on behalf of not existing factories. All families of those young girls
were promised to pay good salary. In
order to cheat the parents, Shi Yanli forced those girls to phone home within a
fixed time period and to tell their parents everything was fine. Furthermore,
Shi Yanli sent 400 to 500 yuan to each girl’s family per month as the “salary”.
One parent was so grateful of the “good treatment” and introduced another 11
young girls to Zhang Hongdeng. In order to make the recruitment real, Zhang
Hongdeng pretended to interview those girls and accepted only 8 girls. The other
3 “unqualified” girls were so sad and managed to go “back door”. Zhang
Hongdeng refused. This story was spread and became a cheating advertisement.
1997 to 1999, this criminal organization had swindled and abducted 50 young
girls to the Hainan Island. Once they arrived with a hope to work in a factory,
they were forced to be prostitutes. Among those 50 young girls, two were below
14 years old; nine were just 14 years old; twenty-seven were between 15 to 18
years old; and twelve were above 18 years old. Shi and other criminals used
force to take those girls’ naked pictures and threatened them to distribute
those pictures if they did not “work”. In order to control those young girls,
Shi Yanli and Shi Yanhong asked their brother, Shi Deping and Shi Deyong to go
to the Hainan Island. The two brothers’ job was to organize the young girls to
“work”, especially to work at the haircut shops opened by Shi sisters.
Because Shi’s haircut shops had adequate supply and those girls were “fresh”,
Shi’s haircut shops became very famous in the Hannan Island and many
“clients” came to request sex service. Within two years, about RMB 500,000
profit was made by the criminals.
Life of the Young Girls
the criminals were enjoying their life by spending money exploited from those
young girls, those young girls were suffering from miserable life. Two girls
took the opportunity of using bathroom and escaped with RMB 50 yuan. When they
arrived at Haikou, the biggest city of the Hannan Island, they had only RMB 10
yuan. They needed money to buy tickets and decided to sell their blood. They
were refused because they did not have ID cards.
They had to call Shi Deyong and naively thought that Shi Deyong might
help them to go back home because they were all from the same hometown. As the
result, the two girls were caught again by the criminals and taken back to the
haircut shop. On the one hand, Shi Yanli ordered them to write to their parents
that they were found. On the other hand, 10 men who consumed sexual medicines
tortured them in the name of “re-education”. The whole process was
videotaped for the purpose of “educating” or threatening other girls. These
two girls were severely injured and could not move for several days.
the Hainan Island, many gamblers and businessmen believed that to have a sex
with a virgin and to see the blood after the sex would bring to them good luck.
Thus, virgins were highly demanded but the high price should be paid. In order
to make more money, Shi sisters forced those young girls to pretended to be
virgins, i.e., during the sex, those girls had to break their sex organ so the
“clients” could see blood and believe they were virgins. As reported, each
girl must pretend to be virgins for three times and would generate additional
RMB 8,000 for Shi sisters.
addition, more than 10 girls were forced to have sex with Zhang Hongdeng, Shi
Deping and Shi Deyong. Among them, Zuo Ruolan, Dai Chunyan and Liu Li were
convinced and turned from victims to accomplices.
Has Been Done
31 August 1999, the police had received a report that several girls were
swindled and abducted to the Hainan Island, and forced to be prostitutes. The
police started investigation and successfully arrested Zhang Hongdeng, Shi
Deping, Shi Yanli, Shi Deyong, Shi Yanhong, Dai Chunyan, Zuo Ruolan. All young
girls were rescued and sent back to their hometwons.
On 18 January 2001, the judgement was anounced publicly as follows:
Hongdeng, Shi Deping and Shi Yanli were given death penalty and executed
immediately, their political rights were deprived and their personal properties
were forfeited. All other
criminals were given severe punishments.
Lower Educational Background
a few victims are highly educated,
most victims don’t have obtained high education, so they are easily cheated to
go with strangers. On the other hand, because of their lower educational
background, it is difficult for them to find an ideal job. Once they see there
is a chance to work for attractive salary, they will go with recruiting men
without any hesitation.
Strategies Have Been Adopted by China to Fight Against This Kind of Crime
the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the National Government
has paid serious attention to this increasing crime. In 1987, both offices of
the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council
issued the Circulation concerning Unremittingly Fight Against the Crime of
Kidnapping and Selling Women and Children In Accordance With the Legal
Provisions (Guanyu Jianchibuxie di Yifa Daji Guaimai Funu Ertong de Fanzui de
1989, the State Council issued the Circulation concerning firmly Creak Down the Crime of
Kidnapping and Selling Women and Children (Guanyu Jianjue Daji Guaimai Funu
Ertong Fanzui de Tongzhi). Furthermore, in 1991, the National People’s
Congress adopted the Decision on Severe Punishment for Criminals Committing the
Crime of Kidnapping and Selling Women and Children (Guanyu Yancheng Guaimai
Bangjia Funu Ertong de Fanzui Fenzi de Jueding) and subsequently, this decision
was amended greatly. In 1997, the Amendment of the Criminal Law was adopted by
the 8th National People’s Congree at its 5th Conference.
This kind of crime was subject to severe punishment under the Criminal Law:
Those abducting and trafficking women or
children are to be sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison plus fine. Those falling
into one or more of the following cases are to be sentenced to 10 years of more
in prison or to be given life sentences, in addition to fines or confiscation of
property. Those committing especially serious crimes are to be sentenced to
death in addition to confiscation of property.
Primary elements of rings engaging in abducting and trafficking women or
Those abducting and trafficking more than three women and/or children;
Those raping abducted women;
Those seducing, tricking, or forcing abducted women into prostitution, or
those selling abducted women to others who in turn force them into prostitution;
Those kidnapping women or children using force, coercion, or narcotics,
for the purpose of selling them;
Those stealing or robbing infants or babies for the purpose of selling
Those causing abducted women or children, or their family members, to
serious injuries or death, or causing other grave consequences;
Those selling abducted women or children to outside the country.
and trafficking women or children refers to abducting, kidnapping, buying,
selling, transporting, or transshipping women or children.
Article 241 Those
buying abducted women or children are to be sentenced to three years or fewer in
prison, or put under criminal detention or surveillance.
buying abducted women and forcing them to have sex with them are to be convicted
and punished according to stipulations of article 236.
buying abducted women or children and illegally depriving them of or restricting
their physical freedom, or injuring or insulting them, are to be convicted and
punished according to relevant stipulations of this law.
buying abducted women or children and committing crimes stipulated in paragraphs
two and three of this article are to be punished for committing more than one
buying and selling abducted women or children are to be convicted and punished
according to article 240 of this law.
buying abducted women or children but not obstructing bought women from
returning to their original residence in accordance with their wishes, or not
abusing bought children and not obstructing efforts to rescue them, may not be
investigated for their criminal liability.
Those using force or coercion to obstruct workers of state organs from rescuing
bought women or children are to be convicted and punished according to article
277 of this law.
elements who lead other people to obstruct workers of state organs from rescuing
bought women or children are to be sentenced to five years or fewer in prison or
put under criminal detention. Other elements who use force or coercion are to be
punished according to paragraph one of this article.
addition to these laws and regulations, several national campaigns have been
organized to fight against this type of crime and many criminals have been
subject to severe punishments including death penalty.
it is admitted that severe criminal punishments could deter the crime of
abducting and trafficking women and children for once, but could not eliminate
this kind of crime from the root. It is suggested to crack down the buyer’s
markets. If the buyer’s markets have been successfully cracked down, it could
effectively stop the increasing tendency. In addition, there is a need to change
the poor life and feudal ideology because those changes will effectively
eliminate the phenomenon of swindling and selling women and children.
the other hand, it is admitted that fighting against this kind of crime is not
just a task for the police departments. Rather, it is a social problem and need
the whole society to cooperate with each other to solve the various problems,
such as prevention, cracking down and governance. That is why we call it a
comprehensive project, which will involve in police, civil departments, birth
control and so on. For example, after those women have been rescued, it is
important to help them to re-gain their self-respect, to cure their spirit hurt,
and most importantly, to resolve their living problems, otherwise, they might be
swindled and sold again.
Furthermore, to fight against this type of crime must be constant,
otherwise, potential criminals will engage in this type of crime again.
of the recommended methods is to make the good use of network. Thank to the high
development of computer network, it is now possible to share information among
the law enforcement authorities. Furthermore, it is possible to share
information internationally, so abducting and trafficking women by crossing the
board could be effectively controlled.
addition, it is advised that a wide range of propaganda should be conducted in
order to teach potential victims to be alert to the crime of abducting and
trafficking women and children. It is also advised that following methods could
effectively avoid this type of crime: (1) don’t look for a job blindly; (2)
when looking for a job in other areas, or travel in other areas, don’t trust
strangers easily; (3) when going to other places, especially in amusement places
don’t eat or drink foods offered by strangers.
large effort has been made by various local governments to crack down
prostitution, the phenomenon of prostitution has been seen everywhere. There is a big demand to get abducted women. Several reasons
contribute to this kind of problem. Firstly, the actions against prostitution
were taken unevenly and prostitutes move from one place to another place.
Secondly, prostitutes are controlled by criminal organizations. Those illegal
organizations, brokers and hotels share profits made by prostitutes. Thirdly,
actions against prostitutes are connected with economic needs. If law
enforcement bodies need more incomes to solve their financial problems, they
will try their best to search for prostitutes and their clients. Each caught
prostitute or client will be fined for about RMB 5,000 yuan. If such a need is
not highly demanded, law enforcement bodies would simply close their eyes for
the activities of prostitution. Furthermore, in order to finish the assignment
of cracking down prostitutes given by their superior, policemen may abuse their
power to detain suspects, including innocent persons sometime.
fight against the crime of abducting and trafficking women and children is not
an easy task. Each country or region should consider its own economic and
cultural background to adopt its unique methods to control this type of crime.
In China, the prevention of the crime of abducting and trafficking women and
children is believed to be a comprehensive project. To eliminate a single cause
could not eliminate this kind of crime completely. Thus, various authorities
should be called to work together to fight against this type of crime. On the
other hand, however, international cooperation and experience sharing will
definitely enhance the effectiveness of preventing this kind of crime.
Assistant Professor, the City University of Hong Kong,
Shanghai University School of Law, Shanghai, China; Visiting Professor,
Hunan Normal University School of Law.
Bachelor of Law and Master of Law, the East China University of
Politics and Law, Shanghai, China; Master of European Business Law,
Aix-Marseilles University, Aix-en-Provence, France; JD, Willamette
University College of Law, Oregon, USA. ;
* Lecturer, Ruhr-University of Bochum (Germany), Faculty of Law,
President of the European Society for the Security of the Interior,
Consultant in Security and Intelligence Matters
 On 26 August 2003, 26 women were swindled
and trafficked to Taiwan. Before
the boat arrived in Taiwan, police demanded a temporary check.
In order to cover illegal activity, the captain ordered to push all
women into the sea. As the
result of this, 6 were dead and one was seriously injured. http://big5.huaxia.com/la/mtcz/00116887.html
(14 February, 2004).
 In China, one-child policy is generally
enforced in the whole country.
(13 February 2004).
(1 February 2004).
 One US dollar equals to about 8 Chinese yuan.
(1 February 2004).
(1 February 2004).
 According to China’s real situation, RMB
5,000 could one year’s salary for a regular maid.
 In one case, a graduated student wanted to
find a job as fast as possible. When
she saw an advertisement to recruit workers, she went to interview and was
swindled and sold. For detailed
information, see http://www.szed.com/n1/ca739284.htm
(1 February 2004).
 In Yunnan Province, for example, the police at various levels cooperated with each other and adopted the methods of cracking down, prevention and rescue concurrently. As the result of this method, many cases have been uncovered. From 1995 to May 2000, Yunnan Province uncovered 3,230 cases of abducting and trafficking women and children; 7,752 criminals were arrested and 923 criminal organizations were destroyed; about 6,543 women and children had been rescued successfully. All criminals involved in this type of crime were given death penalty, life imprisonment and fixed term imprisonment. See http://www.legaldaily.com.cn/gb/content/2000-10/12/content_6518.htm (14 February, 2004).
 It should be noted that in some cases, when the rescue was refused by
victims because they had already given birth to several babies.
As they are normally from poor areas, they worry that their life will
be again miserable if they go back to their hometowns.
In comparison, they prefer to take the status quo and to live with
their “husbands” who bought them. Another
reason is that in some cases, people blame those victims and look them down
when they go back to their hometowns.
(1 February 2004).