Arrests In China After Police Find Babies Hidden In Bags

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Chinese police have made several arrests in connection with a foiled plot to smuggle and sell 28 baby girls who were found hidden in nylon bags on a bus. The babies are believed to be victims of China's notorious "one child" policy.

One of the 28 girls was dead by the time police, acting on a tip-off, made the horrific discovery last week, according to reports in Beijing press. All the babies are under three months old, and they apparently were drugged to keep them quiet.

Chinese newspapers have published photographs of the small bags, now empty, strewn in front of the bus, which was stopped and searched in southwestern China.

The surviving infants were being looked after by nurses at a nearby school, and said to be doing alright.

Police are trying to establish where the babies came from and where they were headed. Some of those arrested were traveling on the bus when the discovery was made.

Although it remains to be seen what lay behind the smuggling attempt, China's much-criticized population control policies may be an important factor.

China enforces coercive family planning laws, dubbed the "one child" policy, because in many cases parents are fined or otherwise punished for having more than one child.

Some sectors of society -- such as rural dwellers or members of ethnic minorities -- are allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl.

Chinese society traditionally values boys higher than girls.

Sons are seen as the ones that carry on the family business. Also, sons are more likely to be able to help support ageing parents in a country where welfare services for the elderly are scarce.

A combination of the "one child" policy and the higher value placed on boys has led to documented cases of infanticide and forced abortion.

It has also seen the girl to boy ratio become unnaturally skewed. The international norm is around 106 boys to every 100 girls, but in China the ratio is closer to 117:100. As a result, experts predict that as many as 30 million young Chinese men may struggle to find partners by 2020.

Some parents may feel compelled to sell or give away unwanted baby girls, to avoid having to pay fines for having exceeded their quota.

The Chinese government is acutely aware of the ramifications of its family planning policies, even if it has done little to ease the restrictions.

On Saturday, Chinese media reported on a recently-promulgated government regulation outlawing sex-selective abortion.

One report in a state-owned paper said the law aimed to "discourage the discriminatory practice of giving preference to male babies over females."

It said families, especially in rural areas, "in the past years" would sometimes abort female babies and only have boys.

"According to the [new] regulation, determining the sex of the fetus and then aborting can only be done for medical reasons," with the approval of three doctors, it said.

See earlier story:
UNFPA Supports 'Coercive Abortion' in China, New Evidence Suggests (Mar. 7, 2003)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow