Police arrest a woman in China who they say used her medical-technology company as a front for buying and selling babies

Newborn baby in incubator - STOCK PHOTO
A newborn baby in an incubator, taken in Toronto, Canada. mkl/Getty Images
  • A woman in east China at the head of a medical tech company is accused of running a child-trafficking business.
  • Authorities say she used the medical company as a front to connect clients with pregnant women who wanted to sell off their newborn babies.
  • A sting operation led by an anti-trafficking advocate led to her arrest on Monday.
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A medical tech company in east China is under investigation on suspicion that it’s a front for an illegal baby-trafficking business, said the city of Weifang’s Public Security Bureau.

Local police arrested the company’s head on Monday after anti-trafficking advocate Shangguan Zhengyi conducted a sting operation with the help of Xia Ruchu from The Paper, a Shanghai-based news outlet.

The suspect, a woman in her forties identified as Sister Zhu, allegedly connected clients who wanted to be parents with pregnant Chinese women looking to sell off their newborns, reported Xia.

A newborn baby may be sold for as much as $US20,000 ($AU27,060) in these parts, wrote Xia, who helped Shangguan with his investigation. Zhu served as the middleman for these transactions and said she was consulted by 20 to 30 clients a year, according to The Paper.

She also offered to help buyers arrange birth certificates for the babies and had a system of swapping the names of her pregnant customers to muddle documentation of the birth, the report said. The goal was to ensure the baby’s biological parents couldn’t find and reclaim their child if they ever changed their minds.

Zhu claimed she knew several hospital doctors and nurses well and got them to help cover up her business, according to Shangguan’s social media account. Shangguan also posted photos of medical certificates with allegedly forged details, and wrote that staff from six hospitals assisted Zhu with obtaining such documents.

Zhu operated out of the city of Weifang in Shandong province and is believed to be part of a 100-strong trafficking network across multiple provinces that communicated through WeChat, a common social media and messaging platform in China.

The sting operation lasted more than a year

Shangguan started his investigation by posing as a childless woman looking to adopt a baby. He got into contact with Zhu in June, who said she might be able to procure an infant girl for him, per The Paper. In fact, girls make up 97% of the children sold in these transactions, Zhu told him, according to the report.

The biological parents of the baby in question needed the money to care for their elder daughter, a 4-year-old who suffers from hyperplasia and required skin graft surgery, per The Paper.

However, Zhu later told Shangguan that plans had changed and he would get a newborn boy instead in July. The investigator was eventually brought to the hospital by Zhu to see the child and a post-partum nurse. There, Zhu asked him to sign a contract that would seal the baby-trafficking deal, and he then revealed that he had been undercover all along.

According to The Paper’s report, Zhu was startled but said she would turn herself in after arranging her family affairs. She said she used to be a teacher before being involved in the trafficking business. Based on the evidence gathered by Shangguan, police arrested her shortly after.

Surrogacy is illegal in China. But Zhu might also face charges of human trafficking, which Chinese law defines as abduction as long as the activity involves abducting, kidnapping, buying, trafficking in, transporting, or transferring a woman or children for the purpose of selling.

Cases like these have been reported in China before. In May, the South China Morning Post reported that a man in Zhejiang province sold his 2-year-old son for $US24,400 ($AU33,014) so he could go on holiday.