HANGZHOU: Authorities in Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang province, are offering cash rewards for information leading to the arrest of beggar gangs that employ children and handicapped people.
"Citizens who provide useful information will receive 200 yuan ($29)," said Chen Guomin, a social welfare official with the Hangzhou Civil Affairs Administration, at a press conference yesterday.
The administration began to solicit information from the public yesterday in an effort to crack down on the exploitation of children and the handicapped.
The campaign is being carried out in collaboration with the city's police and urban administration authorities.
Local media reported last week that dozens of beggars had converged in downtown Hangzhou in the last three weeks. Most appeared in pairs as a handicapped parent and a child aged 7 to 15, though it's possible they might not be related.
The Metropolitan Express said the beggars were likely organized. It quoted witnesses as saying that dozens of children and handicapped adults had been living in two vans parked in an open space in the Shangcheng district for more than two weeks. Their dialects indicated they were from different provinces.
"They begged at railway stations or in commercial streets during the day and went back to the vans after 9:30 pm," the paper said. "The man who appeared to be in charge looked perfectly healthy."
The vans disappeared after the story ran, but beggars were still frequenting Hangzhou's streets, said Chen Guomin. "We have to stop their organizers from exploiting children and the handicapped any further."
Handicapped people and minors are occasionally reported kidnapped or coerced into begging or committing crimes. Gang leaders have been known to injure the vulnerable so they are forced to beg for money.
"We'll try to save these people from being exploited, provide them with adequate aid and send them back home as soon as we can," said Chen.
About 3,000 child and women abduction cases are recorded and investigated by Chinese authorities annually, but some experts estimate that 10,000 to 20,000 Chinese women and children fall into the hands of kidnappers each year. Some of them are forced into begging.
The Ministry of Public Security launched a DNA databank in April to track and trace the victims of abduction.