Take a cell phone snapshot of the child beggar peering through your car window and post it online. Tens of thousands of Chinese believe Twitter-like microblogs can help send a stolen child home.
This week, missing children are in the news in India and China for different reasons. As HT reported, 100 children went missing in Delhi in the first 12 days of February alone. While Delhi worries about missing children, Beijing is abuzz about microblogging to find lost children. India's capital went to great lengths to copy Beijing and Guangzhou to banish beggars to other states for the commonwealth games. It is now worth noting how ordinary citizens in China are trying to save child beggars.
Officially, 30,000-60,000 children vanish in China every year, compared to an estimated 44,000 in India. China has its own Slumdog Millionaire version. Baby boys are sold for under R5 lakh to parents desperate for male heirs. Parts of impoverished Anhui province are in the news for trafficking children for begging.
In March 2008, Peng Wenle, 3, disappeared outside his family's telephone booth in southern Shenzhen. Surveillance cameras captured a man in black jacket pick him up. The boy remained untraced until a reporter recently posted his photo online. A student identified him as an 'adopted' boy in eastern Jiangsu. "The crying man is my dad,'' said Peng, now 6, when his father arrived at the police station for a reunion posted live online.
In January, a letter from a missing child's mother spurred Professor Yu Jianrong of the China Academy of Social Sciences to launch a microblog urging citizens to post snapshots of child beggars. In three weeks, the site posted 2,500 pictures and galvanised 175,000 followers. State media said it has helped rescue six children.
In India, the ten-year-old National Centre for Missing Children has over 3,20,000 subscribers. What makes China's campaign viral is its Internet penetration: 457 million users to India's 81 million, and the reach of 75 million Chinese microbloggers.
The netizenry compelled authorities to announce a crackdown on child abductions. In one case, DNA tests on a child beggar in southern Zhuhai proved he was not lost. His parents made him beg.