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China jails doctor found guilty of baby trafficking

Zhang Shuxia, a Chinese former obstetrician, is escorted by two police officers in Weinan Intermediate People's Court in Weinan, Shaanxi province, on January 14, 2014
Zhang Shuxia, a Chinese former obstetrician, is escorted by two police officers in Weinan Intermediate People's Court in Weinan, Shaanxi province, on January 14, 2014

A Chinese former obstetrician was given a suspended death sentence on Tuesday for abducting newborn babies and selling them to traffickers, in a case that drew widespread outrage.

Zhang Shuxia sold seven children in the northern province of Shaanxi, the intermediate court in Weinan city said on a verified social media account, adding that she had tricked parents into giving up their babies by telling them the newborns were sick or had died.

Her penalty is likely to be commuted to life imprisonment.

The case highlighted child trafficking in China, where tens of thousands of children are believed to be stolen each year.

Most are sold within the country to meet demand fuelled by a one-child limit and traditional preference for sons, while parents accuse apathetic police of failing to investigate.

Zhang obtained most of the newborns in Fuping county by falsely telling their parents that they were ill or had died, before selling them to traffickers for prices reaching 47,000 yuan ($7,800), the court said.

The court found that Zhang had persuaded a mother to give up a pair of newborn female twins last year on the grounds that one had died of disease, while the other supposedly had injured arms and legs.

A nurse looks after a baby rescued from child-traffickers in a hospital in Xichang, southwest China's Sichuan province, December 18, 2012
A nurse looks after a baby rescued from child-traffickers in a hospital in Xichang, southwest China's Sichuan province, December 18, 2012

Chinese parents are sometimes willing to give up disabled children because of the limits imposed by the country's one-child policy, as well as widespread social stigma about disability.

Another baby she sold was later found dead in a ditch, dumped by a trafficker, the court said.

Zhang had received 20,000 yuan each for several female babies, it added, while one male baby fetched a price of 47,000 yuan in 2011.

Several intermediate baby dealers were implicated in the case, and some of the babies she abducted were later found by police and returned to their parents, the court said.

It sentenced Zhang to death with a two-year reprieve, adding that her actions "had a negative impact on society".

A photograph posted by the court showed Zhang, 55, in a blue jacket and trousers, flanked by police officers.

China does not publish figures on how many children are seized every year but said it rescued 24,000 in the first 10 months of 2013, probably a fraction of total cases.

Police have sometimes refused to open cases because the low chance of cracking them might hurt their performance record, and have resisted pursuing families who buy the babies.

Chinese parents lay out some 2,700 photos of missing children on a square in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian province on January 15, 2010
Chinese parents lay out some 2,700 photos of missing children on a square in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian province on January 15, 2010

So far five officials have been sacked in Fuping, where Zhang's hospital was located, including the head of the facility and the director of the county's health department, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

But reports said that Zhang may have sold many more children.

According to state media police received reports of 26 incidents allegedly involving the doctor as the main suspect.

Zhang was detained after one young couple informed police that their baby had been abducted in July, reports said.

The couple told reporters that Zhang claimed their son had inherited hepatitis B and syphilis from them, but doctors later told them they were free of both diseases. The parents later recovered the boy.

Prosecutors told the court that the trafficking-ring extended across several Chinese provinces.

China's strict population control policies mean that most couples are allowed to only have one child.

China's top legislature this month endorsed a resolution easing the one-child policy, allowing couples to have two offspring if either parent is an only child.

Chinese internet users celebrated the verdict, while many called for a stiffer punishment.

"She should die, she is the shame of the medical profession," one user wrote on Sina Weibo, a social media service similar to Twitter.

Another wrote: "The death penalty should be carried out immediately."

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