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Take a Photo, Save a Child

December 19, 2012

On January 17, 2011, Hong Yuping (洪玉萍), from Fujian Province, contacted Yu Jianrong (于建嵘), at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), about her family’s plight and requested assistance: In June 2009, their son, Yang Weixin (杨伟鑫), then age six, was abducted from their hometown, Quanzhou, and they had been searching for him ever since.1 In early 2010, Hong had recognized Yang Weixin in a photo of three children begging outside a Xiamen train station that she happened to see online; she and her husband raced to Xiamen, but was unable to find him. Yu, Director of the Center for the Study of Social Problems at the Rural Development Institute of CASS and a leading voice on education, poverty, and rural issues, posted a request on his Sina Weibo account @于建嵘 asking his followers to help with the search. Many people came forward with questions, clues, and suggestions for helping children who were begging on the streets or who had been taken from their parents.2

Request posted by Yu Jianrong (于建嵘) asking his Weibo followers to help find missing child.

Yu realized that posting on a microblog photographs of child beggars who may have been trafficked and those who had been abducted would reach a wide audience, and thus an effective way to raise awareness of child begging, and might even help reunite families. “Micro-blogging may help put an end to the phenomenon of using children to beg," Yu told China Daily in a 2011 interview. “It also adds an immense social pressure against trafficking of children.”3 On January 25, 2012, he registered the Sina Weibo account Take a Photo, Save a Child (随手拍照解救乞讨儿童), and the campaign was born.

There are no Chinese official statistics on the number of children abducted each year in China.4 But the U.S. Department of State estimates the annual figure at 20,000.5 Children are stolen not for ransom but to be trafficked, sold into forced labor including begging, stealing, and working in brick kilns and coal mines, or sold to families seeking children or spouses for their children.6 The Chinese Ministry of Public Security has run regular anti-human trafficking campaigns and works with civil society groups to identify parents looking for their missing children.7 The Ministry said that it rescued 8,660 abducted children during its 2011 campaign.8

Within 24 hours of Yu Jianrong opening the Take a Photo, Save a Child account, over 7,000 users began following it.9 As of November 19, 2012, it has almost 218,000 followers and over 8,200 posts. Although Hong Yuping has not yet found her son (the child in the photo she saw in early 2012 was a child of a begging family),10 others have been more successful. Just days after the launch of the campaign, People’s Daily’s online portal reported that by February 8, 2011, six trafficked children had been rescued thanks to the Take a Photo campaign.11 Another group, Baobeihuijia (宝贝回家), or “Baby, Come Home,” formed in 2007, reports that 555 families have been reunited with its help.

It is difficult to calculate exactly how many children Take a Photo, Save a Child has helped take off the streets and away from a childhood of begging, or reunited with the families they have lost, since the campaign coincides with the national anti-trafficking campaign, and parents and netizens tend to contact as many groups as possible when they are looking for abducted children or see beggar children on the streets. However, Yu Jianrong would note that that is not the true aim of the campaign. Yu has responded to criticism of the campaign, “We are not an anti-trafficking campaign, because children begging on the street may not necessarily have been trafficked. Our aim is for these children to no longer beg and receive assistance from society.”12 When asked by Southern Metropolis Daily what he hoped the campaign could achieve, Yu said, “Our ultimate goal is to reduce and thoroughly eliminate child begging by means of institutional building and civic participation. We hope that by promoting legislation, strict procedures for investigating and saving child beggars  can be drafted so that child begging can no longer be a profitable market.”13


1. “Muqin tongguo weibo wangyou zhuangfa xunzhao bei guai liang nian erzi” [母亲通过微博网友转发寻找被拐两年儿子], Today Morning Express [今日早报], January 30, 2011,^

2. “Yu Jianrong: ‘Xiwang tuidong lifa dujue weicheng nianren qitao’” [于建嵘:“希望推动立法杜绝未成年人乞讨”], Southern Metropolis Daily [南方都市报], February 8, 2011,, reposted by Tencent News (腾讯新闻) at^

3. “Microblogs Save Abducted Children,” China Daily, February 15, 2011,^

4. Chen Qiang [陈强], “Neidi bei guai ertong jiachang: ‘Bei jiejiu de ertong zhi shi shaoshu’” [内地被拐儿童家长:“被解救的儿童只是少数”], Phoenix Television [凤凰网], May 26, 2012,^

5. U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, “China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau),” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011 (Washington, D.C.: 2012),^

6. U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 (Washington, D.C.: 2012),; Tania Branigan, “China Trafficking Crackdown Leads to Rescue of 178 Children,” The Guardian, December 7, 2011,^

7. “Police Pledge to Fight Child Trafficking,” Xinhua News Agency, June 7, 2012,^

8. Tang Yiliang [汤一亮], “2011 nian quanguo gong’an jiguan jiejiu bei guai ertong 8660 ren” [2011年全国公安机关解救被拐儿童8660人], China National Radio [中国广播网], March 10, 2012,^

9. “Muqin tongguo weibo wangyou zhuangfa xunzhao bei guai liang nian erzi” [母亲通过微博网友转发寻找被拐两年儿子], Today Morning Express [今日早报], January 30, 2011,^

10. Yu Jianrong [于建嵘], January 20, 2011,^

11. “Yu Jianrong deng tan weibo zhuli jingfang jiuzhu qitao ertong” [于建嵘等谈微博助力警方救助乞讨儿童], People’s Daily Onine [人民网], February 10, 2011,^

12. Mao Jianguo [毛建国], “Keqiu ‘Suishou Pa’ hui rang shanzhe tong” [苛求“随手拍”会让善者痛], Today Evening [今晚报], August 30, 2012,^

13. “Yu Jianrong: ‘Xiwang tuidong lifa dujue weicheng nianren qitao’” [于建嵘:“希望推动立法杜绝未成年人乞讨”], Southern Metropolis Daily [南方都市报], February 8, 2011,, reposted by Tencent News (腾讯新闻) at^