Campaigners target child kidnappers

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Chinese authorities are being urged to crack down on gangs that kidnap children for exploitation

An online campaign to gather photos of Chinese children begging on the streets is pressuring authorities to crack down on gangs that kidnap children for exploitation and is helping reunite them with families.

Many of the children seen begging in Chinese cities, often in the arms of women who may not be their mothers, are snatched from their real families by kidnappers and then sold into virtual slavery, forced to beg by gangs that sometimes maim them to elicit greater sympathy.

Several families have been reunited with their abducted offspring since Beijing-based social researcher Yu Jianrong launched a campaign last month urging people to post photos of such children on microblog websites similar to Twitter.

The effort is winning fresh support for efforts to protect children from such abuses, though some visitors to the microblogs have expressed worries over privacy issues and possible retaliation against children by their abductors.

Using children under the age of 14 for begging is illegal in China, but like many other outlawed practices is often tolerated, even in big showcase cities like Shanghai.

Some, barely big enough to walk, stumble through underground trains, hands outstretched. Others sit out in the cold, on grimy pavements.

Children are sometimes forced to beg by their own relatives. But others are used by gangs that have kept alive a long tradition of trafficking in children, women and the disabled.

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