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 (US$29)," said Chen Guomin, a social welfare official with the Hangzhou Municipal Civil Affairs Administration, at a press conference Thursday.
The administration began Thursday to solicit information from the public 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 newspapers reported last week that dozens of beggars had converged on downtown Hangzhou in the last three weeks. Most appeared in pairs of a handicapped "parent" and a child aged 7 to 15, though 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 were living in two vans parked in an open space in 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 p.m.," it said. "The man who appeared to be in charge looked perfectly healthy."
The vans disappeared after the disclosure, 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.
Ministry of Public Security launched a national DNA databank in April to track and trace the victims of abduction.