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Kidnapping in China

As the number of child kidnappings in Shenzhen grows, so too does distrust between parents and police.

Photographs of abducted children in Dongguan area are shown on a banner at the home of one of the mothers in Dongguan in China's southern Guangdong province, June 10, 2009. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

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.