Helping Missing Children Come Home

April 22, 2014
Editor: Frank Zhao
Helping Missing Children Come Home
Zhang Baoyan helps rescue trafficked children with her website baobeihuijia.com. [qq.com]

When her 4-year-old son went missing in a shopping mall in 1992, Zhang Baoyan and her family desperately searched for him. Luckily, it turned out the boy had just wandered off for two hours, before he managed to find his way to his grandfather's home.

Although it was a false alarm, Zhang, in a moment of despair, felt like "killing herself if she lost her son." A later report about trafficked children added to her understanding of the pain experienced by the parents of missing children.

In 2007, Zhang and her husband, Qin Yanyou, established a website, baobeihuijia.com (translated as: baby come home,) providing a free advertising service for parents to look for their missing children, the first of its kind on the Chinese mainland. Since it was established, the website has helped find 757 children and developed a team of nearly 30,000 volunteers across the country.

Rough Start

Interested in the issue of missing children, Zhang and Qin began working on a screenplay to tell the sad story of trafficked children and their families.

Although they failed to turn it into a feature film, while researching their screenplay they found that there was no website providing a free advertising service to look for missing people, let alone a website focusing on missing children. Many parents, who were unfamiliar with the Internet, still attempted to look for their children by posting paper fliers around the area where the child went missing.

Their findings inspired them to build a free service website to help these parents, especially those parents disadvantaged by debts accrued by posting paper fliers and information online.

As the director of the Network Center of Tonghua Normal University, based in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Qin established the baobeihuijia.com website in 2007 with the help of some students at the university.

"Developing the website cost little, but it swallowed up most of our time. Usually the two of us work late after midnight on its daily running," Qin said.

The website was there, but there was no content. "We began looking through the Internet and newspapers to see who had missing children. We called them up and told them we could help for free," said Qin. "Guess what? They thought we were con artists."

Undeterred, they began paying attention to children begging in the street, as they suspected they might have been trafficked. After a thorough investigation, they posted these children's information and photos on their website.

Joint Efforts

At the same time, Zhang began recruiting volunteers. However, in the first weeks, few joined in.

In June 2007, due to information posted on the website, a boy who was trafficked and forced to beg in Hohhot, capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, was rescued and sent back to his hometown in northwest China's Gansu Province by the local police.

The first success not only encouraged Zhang and her team, but also boosted the credibility of Zhang's website. A TV news report on this case raised the profile of Zhang's website further. Volunteers began flooding in from all over the country.

To date, there have been more than 20,000 volunteers, at least 50 percent of whom are still currently active. In the past years, 75 people have been rescued through the joint efforts of the volunteers.

In December 2010, Zhang was selected as one of top 10 people for the rule of law by China Central Television (CCTV) and directly after the news was broadcast, 100 more volunteers joined up.

While expanding their volunteer team, Zhang realized they had to participate in cracking down on human trafficking and cooperate with the police if they wanted to stop the crime.

In May 2009, they suggested the public security department should establish a DNA database to help identify missing children. Accepting the suggestion, the Ministry of the Public Security (MPS) assigned at least one police staff member to each of the volunteers' online communities to collect clues. Currently, there are more than 100 police staff members active in Zhang's online communities.

"Previously, when we found a child in need of rescue, it was difficult to report, but now, it is convenient," said Qin.

Baobeihuijia.com has established a system to share its information of missing children with the MPS.

Zhang and dozens of volunteer cadres attended two seminars organized by the MPS to share their ideas

In recognition of Zhang and her husband's efforts, CCTV selected them among the Top 10 Figures Touching China 2009.

"My volunteers and I hope that no more children go missing and no parents lose their children, by then we will gladly shut down our service," said Zhang. "But before that, we will continue to be determined to contribute our efforts."

(Source: qq.com and sina.com.cn/Translated and edited by Women of China)

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