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BEIJING - People forcing disabled children to beg in a county in East China's Anhui province have 10 days to turn themselves in or face harsh penalties from authorities, an official of Taihe county said on Wednesday.
The move, coinciding with a nationwide online campaign to crack down on child begging, came following media reports highlighting the area, where incidents of child begging have been an alarming trend.
Two disabled children have been rescued and five suspects detained in the county's Gongji town as a result of the crackdown, which started on Feb 6 and was carried out by 160 policemen and government officials, said Zhang Junguo, a local publicity official of the county.
However, no abuse of the rescued children has been found, Zhang stressed.
Gong Chunfeng, 61, was detained for taking a 10-year-old disabled boy to beg in Central China's Hunan province. Gong told police he has paid the boy's family 4,000 yuan ($610) every year since 2006.
The government of Gongji town released a circular on Monday informing local residents that forcing children under the age of 14 or juveniles with disabilities to beg is illegal and they will face severe punishment if caught.
"The high mobility of the labor force creates difficulties for us to know what the migrant workers are actually doing outside, so we encourage people to make reports if they suspect their neighbors or people in the their villages of doing this nasty business," Zhang told China Daily.
Taihe county has a population of 1.7 million, with more than 400,000 people flowing into the major cities to work, Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post reported.
A hotline for informants to report any child begging they witness was also included in the notice.
"Some villagers found out that organizing disabled children to beg can win more sympathy from people and help them make money more easily," Zhang said.
Gong Chuanwen, who has been Party secretary of Gongxiao village in Taihe county for 27 years, reportedly said the average annual income for local farmers is only 1,500 yuan if they rely on agriculture. In contrast, some local villagers who make profits from using children have already built fancy houses, Gong told Oriental Morning Post.
The online campaign, launched on micro blogs at sina.com.cn about two weeks ago, called on netizens to take photos of children begging on the streets. It has gained the support of police across the country.
An estimated six child beggars have been successfully rescued by police thanks to the online campaign, Zhejiang-based Qianjiang Evening News reported without identifying the source.
By the end of Wednesday, the campaign, which aimed to help parents find their missing children, has become the second most popular topic of micro blogs at sina.com.cn.
"All children should enjoy an education and a happy childhood rather than act as tools by adults to gain the sympathy of passers-by," Gao Jun, an active volunteer from Beijing, wrote on his micro blog.
(China Daily 02/10/2011 page5)