Updated: 01/14/2014 20:28 | By Agence France-Presse

China jails doctor found guilty of stealing babies

A Chinese doctor who abducted and sold newborn babies was given a suspended death sentence Tuesday in a case that drew widespread outrage with child trafficking a chronic problem in the country.

China jails doctor found guilty of stealing babies

Chinese police escort obstetrician Zhang Shuxia into the Weinan Intermediate People's Court in Shaanxi province, on January 14, 2014

Zhang Shuxia, an obstetrician, was found guilty of stealing seven children, the court said, adding that she tricked parents into giving up their babies by telling them the newborns were sick or had died.

Her actions were only discovered last year, when she told the parents of a newborn boy that the mother "had syphilis and hepatitis which could infect the infant" and persuaded them to give him up, the court said.

"She took the baby home, and contacted a trafficker," it added.

Doctors later told the parents they were free of both diseases, reports at the time said, and they raised the alarm.

Authorities recovered the boy, who had been sold by traffickers to a farmer with three daughters in the central province of Henan for 60,000 yuan ($9,800).

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

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.

The two girls were also recovered, but another baby Zhang sold was later found dead in a ditch, dumped by a trafficker, said the intermediate court in Weinan, in the northern province of Shaanxi, judging her to be partly responsible. 

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

It sentenced Zhang to death with a two-year reprieve, adding that her actions "had a negative impact on society". The penalty is likely to be commuted to life imprisonment.

Calls for stiffer punishment

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

Her repeated deceptions caused shock across China and highlighted its flourishing underground child trafficking industry, for which 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.

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 inquiries because the low chance of success might hurt their performance record, and have resisted pursuing families who buy the babies.

The country's strict population control policies mean that most couples are allowed to only have one child, although its top legislature this month endorsed a resolution allowing couples to have two offspring if either parent is an only child.

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

But the father of one of the children stolen by Zhang, surnamed Lai, told state-run media: "When hospital leaders came to see me and brought presents I threw them out of the window. I don't accept late apologies, its too late."

Prosecutors told the court that the trafficking ring extended across several Chinese provinces, and while the cases Zhang was convicted of go back only to 2011, reports said that she may have sold many more children.

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

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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