The leader of a group that sold more than 20 Vietnamese infants in China was sentenced to death on Friday, sending a strong signal that China will crack down on cross-border human trafficking, authorities said.
The other 23 traffickers, of whom one is a Vietnamese citizen and eight others have supposed Vietnamese citizenship that has not been confirmed, received sentences ranging from one year and 10 months to life imprisonment, with confiscation of personal property or fines for the crime of trafficking children, according to a statement released by the intermediate court of Fangchenggang in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region on Friday.
The group sold 23 infants aged 10 days to several months to Chinese families starting in 2010 to July 2011.
The traffickers illegally carried the infants over the border to Dongxing, in Guangxi. From there, the children were sold to families in Shantou and Jieyang, both in Guangdong province. The gang also transported pregnant Vietnamese women to Guangdong, where they gave birth, and then sold the newborns.
Eleven of the kidnapped children were rescued in the crackdown and returned to Vietnam in May 2013. Chinese police are cooperating with their Vietnamese counterparts to track down the children's birth parents.
"The trial will play a big role in warning other traffickers to stop," said Huang Qiong, a publicity official for the court in Fangchenggang.
It took more than a year to arrive at sentences in the cross-border trafficking case, much longer than other trafficking cases because it had confronted more obstacles during the investigation, Huang said.
The large number of suspects and infants required a multinational investigation. In addition, the leader received a sentence of capital punishment, requiring a longer processing period.
But the outcome of dismantling the trafficking rings and rescuing the infants made it worth all the hard work, Huang said.
Chen Shiqu, director of anti-human-trafficking office of the Ministry of Public Security's criminal investigation arm, said the trial sent a strong signal that human trafficking won't be tolerated.
The main members got more severe sentences, and the ringleader, Huang Qingheng, who claimed to be a Vietnamese citizen, was sentenced to death.
"To protect women and children, the traffickers should be punished harshly," Chen said.
Since 2004, China has had a cooperation plan in place with its Southeastern Asian neighbours, including Thailand, to fight cross-border human trafficking.
"The joint efforts will never let up, and we will rescue victims and protect our people," Chen said.