In Brief: 90% of Xinjiang Child Beggars are Kidnapped

In today’s Global Times is this tiny tidbit from Xinhua. What I’m quoting here is the entire story as the GT printed it:

The government of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has promised to find and take home native Xinjiang street children, many of whom have to make a living by begging or stealing.

At least 90 percent of the children are kidnap victims, most come from less developed areas in southern Xinjiang, according to a report by the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences. (Xinhua)

This flies in the face of a lot of the reasoning that was thrown around earlier this year to take down the “Rescue Street Children” campaign on Sina Weibo and elsewhere (see this previous post on for more on that). Moreover, it very much confirms what we’re being told by some of the people we’ve spoken to for our documentary, who have said that nearly 100% of the Uyghur children they rescue from street life (begging and pickpocketing, mostly) have been kidnapped.

Luckily, since the demise of the “Rescue Street Children” movement, Sina’s users have kept active in the social sphere, and are currently waging a campaign to rescue whiny, lame college kids from being single.

Of course, it’s not a surprise that the chief thing most people had against the “Rescue Street Children” is a total lie. I’m a bit surprised they’re reporting it in the media, although of course this report sort of makes it sound like the problem is only in Xinjiang — it isn’t, the kids are taken from there to cities all over the country — and it is a two-sentence wire story they’re running on a Saturday…clearly someone’s hoping it stays low-profile.

Note: If anyone can find the original Xinhua report, I’d love to see it. There’s this story about how Xinjiang is working to rescue street kids, but it doesn’t contain the numbers in the GT article…

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0 thoughts on “In Brief: 90% of Xinjiang Child Beggars are Kidnapped”

  1. I did a search in Xinhua and found an article titled

    新疆流浪儿童被诱拐者居多 反复流浪现象严重

    http://world.hebnews.cn/2011-04/25/content_1924097_5.htm

    You can find the 90% kidnapped reference in the second page of the article.

    My parents have caught Xinjiang thieves trying to steal contents from their bags twice already in the last 3 years, and my wife was attacked by Xinjiang thieves last year during the expo. Apparently they infest the subways in Shanghai targeting mostly women and elderly.

    After reading this article I guess I can feel for some of them, although I will be prejudiced against Uighurs in China for times to come (hey I am honest). They are quickly becoming the gypsy class in China.

    The article talks about how the kidnapped kids growing up to be kidnappers themselves because they don’t have the opportunities to correct their lives. The government can certainly do more to start local programs in Xinjiang to educate the people, but this will only piss off the human rights people and sneakheads more. They will simply complain of more “chinese influence”.

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  2. @ lolz: I don’t think the problem is in Xinjiang, so I’m not sure how local government education would help. If these people are kidnapping kids from Xinjiang and bringing them to Shanghai, what does good does teaching in Xinjiang do?

    One thing the government COULD do is change the way state-run rescue shelters for children run. Instead of being sent directly home, rescued children from Xinjiang (or anywhere) are just bounced to the closest rescue center that’s in the general direction of their hukou registration. That center then moves them to the next closest one, and so on. As you can imagine, it can take years to get home this way, and most kids don’t have the patience for it..sooner or later in the process they run away, and then they’re back on the street, alone, and the only skills they know are begging and stealing so…what do you think happens?

    It would be more expensive, but if rescue shelters sent kids directly back to the centers in their hometowns, it might go a long way to solving the problem. But of course that would cost WAY more money than throwing the kids in a van and driving them an hour or so out to the next closest rescue shelter.

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  3. Mr custer, where’s your political sensitivity on this issue? To keep large number of kidnapped kids in rescue shelters could easily rouse nationalist sentiments among Uyghurs. We saw how quickly false rumors spread and how deadly it turned out in Ulumqi 2 years ago. The problem starts in xinjiang and should end in xinjiang. To keep large number of Uyghur children in any kind of institutions would be seen by Uyghur nationalists as another indication the Chinese government plans to sinicize their population at young age.

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  4. @custer

    The problem is twofold: You have to come up with a solution to prevent future kidnappings, and you also have to address the existing kidnapped children. I think what you said so far affects only the existing kidnapped children but will certainly not prevent further kidnappings because it doesn’t address the key reason why people kidnap at the first place: because they can’t find jobs or do not wish to find normal jobs.

    The Xinhua article actually did a good job pointing out the root cause: income/social disparity within the Xinjiang society. Personally I think education is the key to find employment. Without learning how to speak Mandarin for example would severely limit most Chinese’s ability to get a good job. However, when it comes to education even something as simple as what I just wrote becomes controversial : Whenever the Chinese government tries to educate kids in underdeveloped areas involving non-hans, human rights organizations would accuse the the Chinese government of engaging in some kind of “cultural imperialism” or “pro-government brainwashing”. If Chinese government opens up more companies in the Xinjiang so more locals could be employed, it would get accused of trying to take their land. On one hand, people say they want the lives of the Uighurs to improve, on the other hand the same people are against the easiest method to improve one’s life in China, to learn how to speak the same language which is spoken by most in China and their culture. That doesn’t make any sense.

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  5. @jsyang: READ. I’m not suggesting anyone KEEP Xinjiang kids institutions. Street kids who are rescued are ALREADY sent to institutions; all I’m suggesting is that they ought to be sent directly to the institutions in Xinjiang so that there’s some hope they could find their original homes.

    If you really think that shouldn’t these children shouldn’t be given the best chance possible to find their homes because it might provoke nationalist sentiments among Uyghurs, you are truly a monster.

    @ lolz: you’re right on both points, except that I think you’re assuming the kids are also being kidnapped by Uyghur criminals who do that because they can’t find other work. While I’m certain there are some Uyghurs involved, I don’t think there’s any evidence to indicate that most of these kidnapping/street beggar/criminal rings are actually being run by Uyghurs, or are comprised primarily of Uyghurs. That’s why I’m not convinced better education in Xinjiang is going to solve this particular issue.

    But what will solve it…to be honest, I’m not sure. Obviously, the police could spend a lot more on it than they do (take some of that MASSIVE national stability budget and apply it to this issue, you’d see results). But even with giant mountains of cash, these crimes are legitimately really difficult to solve. I think investment in better policing, combined with investment in a propaganda campaign to spread the idea that kidnapping is wrong, buying kidnapped children is wrong (there are communities where it is totally accepted as natural) would help. Big rewards for whistleblowers of any kind. Etc.

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  6. Yeah, I never, ever, gave any money to child beggars, for exactly this reason – most of them are kids either taken or given by their parents to criminal gangs, or forced by their parents into begging for them. The figure is 90% for Xinjiang (I’m presuming this are mainly Uighur) child beggars, but it seems pretty unlikely that the figures would be much different for the Han, Hui, and other ethnicities.

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  7. Mr. custer, you area self righteous tard! it’s like you’re the only person who care about the street children in china. There’ve been a lot of writings on this issue for years now. Most of these kids didn’t just despair from their home, in many cases they were sold by their families. There’re many testimonies from formal street children how they were sold by their own relatives or 熟人 in villages in 南疆 and !

    “I don’t think there’s any evidence to indicate that most of these kidnapping/street beggar/criminal rings are actually being run by Uyghurs, or are comprised primarily of Uyghurs.”

    Before making such statement please back it up with your statistics! Did you get your information from the PSB or you actually dressed up as a Uyghur 黑老大and hangout with the gangs days on end? Where’s your evidence to prove that the 维族偷盗黑帮is managed by 汉人in 内地? Or is it just out from your imagination? I can also accuse you for been the sneakheads behind all the kidnappings in china, would that be fair?

    And before been called a monster, let’s get couple of things straight. This is what you said:

    One thing the government COULD do is change the way state-run rescue shelters for children run. Instead of being sent directly home, rescued children from Xinjiang (or anywhere) are just bounced to the closest rescue center that’s in the general direction of their hukou registration. That center then moves them to the next closest one, and so on. As you can imagine, it can take years to get home this way, and most kids don’t have the patience for it..sooner or later in the process they run away, and then they’re back on the street, alone, and the only skills they know are begging and stealing so…what do you think happens?

    Clearly you have no idea how the whole process worked. If the kids have any inkling as to where their home is, they will be sent directly home! The question is who’s paying for it, the 新疆自治区政府 or the 内地 政府.

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  8. It’s unlikely that most of the Uighur kids are sold by Han cuz the latter don’t speak Uighur (which will make some people go epileptic but that’s another story).

    The unsubstantiated accusations that the ultimate bosses of such rings are Han are nothing but pure racism.

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  9. They are quickly becoming the gypsy class in China

    Some German girl asked me back in China what people we had that was like the roma in Europe when we were discussing how France was sending them back to Romania, I said I couldn’t think of any. One reason is that I have never personally been harassed by Uighur child beggars (there’re surprisingly few in most parts of Beijing) and the Uighur population generally is a modern, educated community that focuses on modern industries.

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  10. @ jsyang: My information comes from the HOURS I’ve spent tracking down and interviewing experts. By “experts” I don’t mean the idiots who write about this issue in editorials. I mean people who’ve been working with these kids for ten+ years. People who’ve seen what happens firsthand over and over and over again. And, of course, some of my information also comes from talking to the kids themselves.

    And yes, there are plenty of street kids who are sold by their own families. There are also plenty who are kidnapped….

    But yeah, don’t let that stop you from assuming that you know better because you read a couple of those Global Times op-eds back in January.

    As for who runs the gangs, all I said was “I don’t think there’s any evidence to indicate it’s all Uyghur run.” If there IS such evidence, by all means, produce it. Otherwise, I stand by that statement.

    @keisat: Why the hell would the kidnappers need to speak Uyghur? At the endpoint, certainly, there are probably handlers that speak Uyghur, to train the kids (although you can train kids pretty easily with punishment/rewards regardless of any language barrier), but the kidnappers don’t need to be able to talk to the kids at all….

    And while I love your desperate attempt to be the victim of racism, I didn’t say anything about Han being the ultimate bosses. All I said was (once more, with feeling): ” “I don’t think there’s any evidence to indicate it’s all Uyghur run…”

    You guys both should really read the things I actually write, rather than imagining things you wish I had written…

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  11. “While I’m certain there are some Uyghurs involved, I don’t think there’s any evidence to indicate that most of these kidnapping/street beggar/criminal rings are actually being run by Uyghurs, or are comprised primarily of Uyghurs. ”

    I can’t find hard statistics on this. However given the animosity between the Uighurs and Hans, if the “boss” is a Han it would be difficult to control these thief rings once the kids grow up.

    There is also evidence out there that Uighur thieves target Hans exclusively and feel justified at their actions. http://books.google.com/books?id=yT8Yc994CuUC&pg=PA114&lpg=PA114&dq=Uighur+thieves&source=bl&ots=H3oZmEUvac&sig=iIMHVBjYBQfumUHRrB0mWp8t6og&hl=en&ei=Xfi-TeeCCInMgQfZsc3eBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Uighur%20thieves&f=false

    “I think investment in better policing, combined with investment in a propaganda campaign to spread the idea that kidnapping is wrong, buying kidnapped children is wrong (there are communities where it is totally accepted as natural) would help. Big rewards for whistleblowers of any kind. Etc.”

    Yeap. I think China could learn alot from various US programs which target gang violence in specific (typically) ethnic areas, if it has not doing so already. I see parallels here.

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  12. Gee, so whoever disagrees with you are brainwashed by global times, that’s just great!

    Have you ever spoke to the young Uyghur thief and their handler? If not, all you said are nothing but your assumptions, and assumptions often turn out to be the biggest fuckup!

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  13. Have you ever spoke to the young Uyghur thief and their handler?

    jsyang: Yes. Have you?

    I’m not saying anyone who disagrees with me is brainwashed by the Global Times. What I am saying is that my information comes from people who I know are heavily, professionally involved in this issue and have been so for years. It also comes from talking to the kids themselves, and yes, that includes some Uyghur children (through a translator, obviously; I don’t speak Uyghur). Since your stance doesn’t seem to be based on anything other than a desire to disagree with me, I’m not inclined to believe you over these people who I personally trust and know are deeply, deeply involved with these issues.

    As for what you said about the kids being sent directly home, I’m sorry, that just is not correct. That is the official policy, yes. But that’s not the way it actually works, EVERYONE we talked to (kids who experienced it themselves and the adults at the rescue stations) all told us the same thing. If a kid remembers EXACTLY where they are from (i.e., they know their parents’ names or phone number) then they might be sent directly home. Otherwise, they’re bounced from station to station, in exactly the way I described. That’s what happens to most children, because even when they do remember their homes, they are usually afraid of adults by the time they get rescued, so they don’t trust anyone enough to give them information about their parents. Since these shelters (a) don’t have pyschological counselors and (b) do have a limit on the number of days a child is allowed to stay, most times even when a child does know something, they don’t trust anyone enough to say it before they’re bounced to the next shelter.

    I’m sure you’ll say that I’m wrong, but this is information I got from experts and kids alike, including people who work with the police and these official government shelters. Probably, you assume I’m lying anyway, though, so you’ll just have to wait for our documentary to come out and then watch it for yourself.

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  14. Another interesting thing, which we just learned this weekend, is that the police system — I mean the computer/database system — for searching for lost family members and such is hopelessly outdated and not nearly as useful as it could/should be. They are working on updating it, but of course, in a country with 1.3 billion people, that’s not an easy job.

    (Cynic: Plus, what’s more important, stopping kidnapping or arresting artists and lawyers to keep them from saying embarrassing things like “China should have laws”)

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  15. Hey Custer — Keep up the great work and your personal mission on the child theft issue. I wrote about the various ways governments and individuals around the world are using social media to tackle the issue of abducted children. Your persistence in this matter is so vital for continued focus.

    On another matter, I really appreciate your genuinely unbiased views on China, especially your previous project with Kai Pan in China/Divide. You’re one of the few foreign analysts/watchers on China who is self-aware of one’s own biases and actively tries to avoid them. Moreover, you stand out because of your efforts on original reporting, rather than parroting China tropes amongst the China-watching echo chambers.

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  16. @jsyang:

    I can’t let your comments stand.

    If Mr. Custer is a “self righteous tard” then I hope everyone can be one as well. I can only hope to be as self righteous of a tard as you say he is.

    What have YOU done for the street children in China, Mr. Yang?

    Tell us.

    If doing one’s best to help others–paticularly those in most need– is being a “self righteous tard” then I don’t mind being labelled as such either.

    Mr. Yang, you are much lower than a “self righteous tard”.

    Thanks and bye.

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