Smuggling syndicates appear to have stepped up the use of schoolkids to move goods across the border illegally into the mainland.
Taking advantage of a large number of students who live in Shenzhen but attend schools in Hong Kong, smuggling gangs are luring pupils into acting as mules.
According to Shenzhen authorities, customs officers at Huanggang Port busted ten smuggling cases involving cross-border pupils on just one day this week.
On Tuesday, officers stopped 10 students who were trying to cross the border and go back to their homes in Shenzhen after attending classes in Hong Kong.
Noticing that the pupils were carrying unusually bulky schoolbags, customs staff began an inspection, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Proving suspicions right, the officers found that the schoolbags did not contain books or stationery but instead a lot of products that obviously did not belong to the schoolkids.
Among the items found were 90 brand-new iPhone 7 handsets, 100 iPhone 6 devices, 20 Samsung S8 phones, and 10kg of high-end bird nest.
The goods, worth an estimated one million yuan (US$145,560) in total, were impounded on the spot.
Preliminary investigations revealed that the pupils were “asked” by some people, believed to be members of smuggling groups, to carry the products from Hong Kong to Shenzhen.
The smugglers did not pay the kids any money but allegedly offered McDonald’s meals or ice cream bars as reward for carrying the goods across the border, according to Guangdong News.
Customs officers did not arrest the pupils, suspecting that the kids were just unwary victims and that they did not really know that what they had done was illegal.
The students were let off after a lecture as to how they were being used by unscrupulous people for an unlawful activity, and how such offers of help can have serious consequences.
A supervisor at Huanggang Port said smugglers may have begun targeting schoolkids to serve as mules as the usual carriers are lying low following a crackdown on the so-called parallel traders.
Shenzhen authorities will keep in close touch with their Hong Kong counterparts to share information and to launch campaigns to enhance awareness among school children about the need to abide by the law, the official said.
In other comments, the Shenzhen official urged the public to stay alert and inform authorities if they notice any cases of students being used by smugglers.
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