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China’s Disabled Children Are Sold Into Slavery As Beggars

Posted by Author on July 23, 2007

As Beijing prepares for the Olympics, racketeers live well off their street army of exploited teenagers

John Ray in Beijing, The Observer, Sunday July 22, 2007-

Nature Has not been kind to Gao Zhou Zhou – though not as cruel as other human beings. Her back is bent and bowed; her legs fold uselessly beneath her. She gets around using a homemade skateboard. Her arms, legs and face are very, very dirty. She doesn’t know her age – she looks perhaps 15 – and she cannot remember her real parents. But she knows the pain of life on the streets of Beijing. ‘When I first came here they beat me so hard I nearly died. They beat me and they beat me,’ she says.

It was three years ago when a man she calls ‘uncle’ came to her village. There was a cash transaction with her stepfather, who was promised the equivalent of £150 in instalments. In the land of the rampant capitalist, this was just another business deal.

Since then, most days from early morning to nightfall, she has been hunched over her pitch – a patch of pavement close to Tiananmen Square, amid the crowds of tourists and shoppers. Most don’t offer a second glance. Some pause long enough to place a few notes into the tin she holds out. On a good day she earns 300 yuan (£20). It goes to ‘uncle’.

‘The man who took me here is a very powerful man. Everybody in the village is scared of him. He can chop off anybody’s arm or leg. Whatever he wants. He’s got men all over China. He told me he will find me wherever I go.’

This is not an isolated story. Another girl, born with a curved spine and legs that can carry her only in a spider-like walk, tells us how she was sold into what amounted to a life of slavery in Beijing. Yang Ping says: ‘On the first day I only earned 20 yuan from begging. They beat me up’. She starts to cry: ‘Can we not talk about this?’

Ping is one of six, five of them girls. She wanted to make a living and her family needed the money. Two years ago, she was lured to Beijing with the promise of a job in a toy factory. Her parents were promised £20 a month.

Arriving in the city, she was told the factory had gone bankrupt and she was forced to beg for her keepers. ‘When they played mahjong and lost a few hundred yuan, there would be no food for a start. And then they would show us violence, just like that. They kicked me on the ground and beat me with a belt. They bought nice clothes and had nice cars. I had nothing.’

In a country still in shock from this summer’s unprecedented public soul-searching over the slave labour used in brick factories, the sale of children, often disabled, to work as beggars is yet another scandal the authorities will have to tackle. Next year Beijing will be both Olympic and Paralympic city. What plans are there to clear the streets of the thousands who make a living from them?

The Beijing government refused to say. But charity workers and officials say the authorities have not yet worked out a plan – at least not one they can talk about. Most observers believe the beggars will be cleaned out, one way or the other. And that would be tough on Li Ji Hai and his wife.

A middle-aged couple, they live in a shabby corner of Beijing and live off the earnings of beggars. One is a baby boy who barely stirs during our visit. ‘He’s sick,’ Li tells us. ‘We found him by the roadside in March.’ The other is a teenager – from the same province as Zhou Zhou. They say they bought him for a few hundred yuan. Each day they send him out to beg on their behalf.

Li walks across the room and grabs the boy’s legs. He shakes them around to demonstrate that he is paralysed from the waist down. ‘I know it’s illegal,’ Li admits. ‘But begging has a long history in China. There’s nothing to hide. Everybody has to make a living.’

According to Kate Wedgwood, the outgoing China director of Save the Children, it is part of a much bigger phenomenon. Amid the huge tide of Chinese workers moving from country to city, as many as a million children have become separated from their parents. Perhaps 150,000 are looked after by the state; the rest, presumably, are fending for themselves. ‘A lot of it is about ignorance,’ said Wedgwood. ‘Often the parents don’t know what existence they are selling their children into.”

Zhou Zhou has pinned her hopes on her stepfather. She gives this message to take to him: ‘Please come and get me. My life here is so bitter.’

We track her stepfather down to a village in Henan, an hour’s flight south of Beijing and a world away from China’s economic miracle. This is dirt-poor country.

Gao Jie Liang, standing in his cramped and muddy farmyard, is slightly built and 5ft tall. No way could he stand up to ‘uncle’ – even if he wanted to. He seems to have no regrets, except to believe that he sold Zhou Zhou too cheaply. She was a burden, he says. She wanted to leave, and it is common for the parents of disabled children to offload them in this way.

The last we see of his stepdaughter is close to Tiananmen Square as night falls. Her ‘uncle’ is about to pick her up. Zhou Zhou will hand over the day’s takings, and she’ll be back here tomorrow. There is no other place for her to go.

· John Ray is ITV News China Correspondent. His report will be shown on the ITV Evening News at 6.30pm on Monday.

Original report from The Observer

One Response to “China’s Disabled Children Are Sold Into Slavery As Beggars”

  1. maria said

    this is soo sad,if you actually imagine yourself in these poor childrens place,you’d realize:(..they need a live a normal childhood.it is just soo dirty..sad..horrible.It really makes my sad.Im 13,and after reading their story i feel im rather lucky.But still,they need HELP!this is not something to read about..feel bad anf forget..we all know thats what happens..but we have to take..ACTION!
    tell me if i can help in any way
    love
    -maria:)

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