HONG KONG, China — In November, kidnappers seized 11-year-old Chen Hao in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. The captors demanded 1 million yuan, or $146,000, for the boy’s return. His distraught parents agreed to pay part of the ransom up front. But their actions were not enough and the next day Hao’s dismembered body was discovered.
A month earlier, 11-year-old Yi Yichen was kidnapped and murdered, his body dumped in the sea.
Such grisly crimes have anxious residents of Shenzhen pressuring police to crack down. The Chinese boom town, just north of Hong Kong, has seen child kidnapping cases surge in recent months.
The city has a population of 9 million. Its GDP per capita, at around $13,000, is the highest in China. Child kidnap victims usually come from well-to-do families.
Officials say there have been four cases since June, including the fatal cases of Chen and Yi.
Others say the real number of child kidnappings in the same period is more than 20. Many accuse the police of bungling the cases and not sharing information with worried parents.
Steve Vickers, president and chief executive officer of FTI-International Risk, believes the criticism of the police is unwarranted. In his career, the Hong Kong-based policeman turned risk consultant Vickers has handled 28 kidnap cases. All but two resulted in the safe release of the victim.
“Handling a kidnap case is extremely stressful,” he said. “It requires the police to have a high degree of technical ability, patience and stamina.”
Certain units of the Shenzhen Police possess these skills, said Vickers. “[But] it will take time for the required level of sophistication to take root across the police force.”
Vickers says Hong Kong was plagued by kidnappings in the 1970s and 1980s but they are now rare in the former British colony. He believes the current spate of kidnappings in Shenzhen is most likely the work of amateurs encouraged by media reports of successful abductions.
Many Chinese are still reluctant to report kidnappings to the authorities. Vickers said people must be encouraged to inform the police in a timely manner so as to reduce the chances of bloodshed. Yet there is only so much the police can do, Vickers warned. “Families need to do more for themselves,” he said.
Priscilla Lui, director of Against Child Abuse, a child protection agency in Hong Kong, said closer cooperation between authorities on both sides of the border could help reduce the number of abductions.
According to Lui, 6,000 children cross over each morning from Shenzhen to Hong Kong to attend school and cross back again in the evening. Many of them make the trip alone. “It’s dangerous,” she said. “We have been concerned about kidnapping for quite a long time.”
The period leading up to Chinese New Year usually sees a rise in kidnappings. In response, Shenzhen’s Public Security Bureau launched a 70-day anti-crime campaign in December. The scheme targets serious crimes including kidnappings.
For some families, the blitz is too little too late. For others, it offers some hope of protecting their children from opportunist criminals.
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