Chinese authorities across 10 provinces coordinated a large child-trafficking bust, rescuing 178 children and arresting 608 suspects, the Ministry of Public Security said on Wednesday.
In a joint investigation, 5,000 police across China cooperated for six months on breaking two child-trafficking rings that led to the arrests last week, according to a statement by the ministry.
The crackdown is "one of the biggest victories for anti-trafficking,” the statement said. "Police departments will continue to crack down on child trafficking and ensure that involved children are kept out of the reach of buyers.”
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Children of China’s poorer migrant families are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, with many being forced into prostitution and forced labor, according to the US State Department.
Critics say the nation’s strict one-child policy is to blame for the thriving child-trafficking market, which has put a premium on males.
Boys were sold for as much as 50,000 yuan ($7,888) during a November trafficking-bust in eastern China’s Shandong Province. Girls were sold at the lower price of 30,000 yuan ($4,733).
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China has broken 7,025 human trafficking gangs since the government started a special campaign in mid-2009, the China Daily reported. Police have rescued 18,518 children and 34,813 women since then.
Tens of thousands of children go missing every year in China, though exact figures are difficult to obtain, according to the Associated Press.
The Chinese government said the rescued children will be put into orphanages while authorities try to reunite them with their families.