China has smashed four child-trafficking rings and arrested more than a thousand people for using websites and instant messaging groups to trade babies, Chinese authorities said Friday.
On February 19, police from 27 provinces across China rescued 382 babies and arrested 1,094 people suspected of buying and selling infants online, China's Ministry of Public Security said in a statement on its website.
The sting was part of a six-month operation launched after police in Beijing and Jiangsu in eastern China received reports of a website promoting private adoptions.
Further investigations uncovered a virtual black market -- involving four websites, online forums and some 30 groups on a popular Chinese messaging platform -- that connected traffickers with potential buyers.
The ministry said some of the people arrested confessed to using the sites.
According to local media reports, 27 suspects were arrested in the country's southern Sichuan province, where 13 babies were also rescued. Another 43 suspects were arrested and 11 babies rescued in Anhui province, in eastern China.
A woman arrested by police in Leshan, Sichuan admitted to buying two baby girls from Wuhan and Chengdu, in August 2013 and January 2014, respectively, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Another couple in their 30s told CCTV they used a Chinese website to buy a baby from an expectant teenage couple in Chengdu. They paid 20,000 yuan (US$3,250) for the child.
It is not known where the other arrests took place.
Child trafficking has become a major concern in China, as traffickers seek to profit off a growing demand for healthy babies from potential adoptive parents both in China and beyond.
Last month, a Chinese doctor received a suspended death sentence for selling babies to a trafficking ring. The woman, an obstetrician at a hospital in Shaanxi province in central China, sold seven babies in six separate cases after persuading her patients that their newborns were sick and should be given up, according to statements posted on the local court's official microblog account.
The ministry said its investigation into the online baby-trading networks is still ongoing. It did not say whether charges have been brought against any of the suspects, or if the trafficking extended beyond China.