Reunited after 24 years: rare happy ending for China’s broken families

Growing up, Kang Ying didn’t think much about the fact that she was adopted. Her family, farmers in a rural county of China’s south-western Sichuan province, never treated her differently. When Kang asked about her birth parents, she was told she had been found on the street, a little girl no more than four years old, probably abandoned.

In March, Kang, now 28, learned that was not the whole story. Married and with children of her own, she began to wonder about her own mother. She searched online for “child lost more than 20 years ago” and came across a sketch that made her stop. The drawing had been posted by a couple in Chengdu, about 100 miles from where she grew up, who had been searching for their daughter for the last 24 years. The father, a taxi driver, had been handing out cards about his missing daughter to all of his passengers. The online ad was their latest effort.

She called the contact listed and, less than a month later, flew to Chengdu to meet her birth parents. The family met for the first time on Tuesday in an emotional reunion that captured the public imagination, a rare happy ending for one of the thousands of Chinese families who have lost a child. When we saw her I had this feeling of being a mother that I never felt with any of the others. On Friday, Kang was visiting her parents again to celebrate their reunion in her father’s village, two hours from Chengdu where they normally live. Her mother washed dishes and prepared food in a dark kitchen at the back of the family home. Kang took her children to play outside. “I thought it would be awkward meeting them after so much time, but it felt natural. I guess it’s because we are family,” Kang said. In China, anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 children go missing every year, according to estimates. In most cases the children have been abandoned, the result of multiple factors: rural poverty, China’s formerly stringent one-child policy, a preference for sons and larger families, and local traditions.

But many have also been kidnapped, to be sold within the country as couples struggle with rising infertility rates and imbalances caused by population controls. Boys fetch higher prices, but according to Anqi Shen, a professor at Northumbria Law School in Newcastle who researched trafficking, girls are also in demand because of the belief they will take care of ageing parents. “What we can say is that child trafficking and abduction was a historical social problem in China, and it remains a serious problem,” she said.

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