The image above of a three-year-old girl being abducted went viral on social media in mainland China last week.
The girl has now been found, but the search for her sheds light on the country’s huge online campaigns trying to track down tens of thousands of missing children and return them to their parents, BBC News reported.
The screengrab from a security camera video was released by police in Guangdong province and published on Weibo.
It shows a woman strolling hand in hand with a young girl — but the woman is not her mother.
The girl was walking with her grandfather when a woman approached the pair asking for something to eat.
When the grandfather went to buy her some food, the woman took the child’s hand and disappeared.
“I couldn’t find [my granddaughter] and felt like I wanted to throw myself in a river,” he later told a Chinese reporter.
When the photo of the abduction appeared, the reaction was a mixture of alarm and fury — but few expressed surprise.
“Human traffickers should get the death penalty!” wrote another user, referring to the woman who took the child away.
It’s a widely held opinion in the mainland, where the crime is punishable by about 10 years in prison.
The girl was later found by the police and safely returned to her family, but the anger has not died down on social media.
The abduction of young children is common in the mainland.
Estimates range from 20,000, from the US State Department, to as much as 10 times that figure in the Chinese media — a number disputed by the police.
Hundreds of thousands of people are turning to social media to try to find their missing children or to find the parents of children they believe have been abducted.
The biggest campaign — Baby Come Home — has almost 350,000 followers on Weibo and runs a website where people can upload photos in different categories.
The screen below displays images of missing children uploaded by families or loved ones.
But there are other pages on the site showing children photographed by members of the public who believe they spotted an abducted child in the street.
Others show pictures of the families searching for their children online.
Why are there so many missing children in the mainland?
There is a lucrative black market in children, who are mostly sold for adoption, the BBC said.
A baby girl can reportedly sell for up to 50,000 yuan (US$8,000).
Boys go for double the price. The preference for boys stems from their ability to continue the family name and provide financially for elderly parents.
Some children are intentionally kidnapped from wealthy families to extract ransom payments.
While some abducted children find their way back to their families, the vast majority are never found.
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