Officials in south China's Hunan province have dismissed claims that more than a dozen babies were seized from parents who violated the country's one-child policy and sold to orphanages who arranged to have them adopted overseas.
A four-month investigation into the allegations, first reported in May by the Beijing-based Caixin Century magazine, found no evidence of baby trafficking in Hunan's Shaoyang city, said an official from the Hunan press office in the provincial capital of Changsha who would give only his surname, Zuo.
However, investigators did uncover serious violations by 12 Shaoyang officials, who have since been punished, Zuo said Friday. He declined to elaborate or give details.
A Shaoyang city press release posted online Wednesday said the 12 were fired and dismissed from the Communist Party. It didn't say what sort of violations they committed.
For three decades, China has enforced strict family planning rules that limit urban families to one child and rural families to two if their first is a girl. The rules were designed to curb explosive population growth in the world's most populous nation, but critics say it has spawned terrible abuses, including forced sterilizations and abortions.
Violators today routinely lose their jobs and are forced to pay steep fines.
The original Caixin report said at least 16 children were seized by family planning officials in Shaoyang between 2000 and 2005, with 12 turned over to a local orphanage. It said "most" were subsequently adopted by families outside China.
Local residents told the magazine that the orphanage paid family planning officials 1,000 yuan ($160) per child.
The magazine profiled a father, Yang Libing, who said his infant daughter was seized by family planning officials in 2005 after he failed to pay a 6,000 yuan ($940) fine for violating the one-child limit since he already had a son.
Yang said he believed his daughter was living in the United States, and he showed a photo of a smiling girl in a blue silk dress holding a toy stuffed panda. He said he was sent the photo in 2009 by strangers who told him his daughter was "living a happy life in the United States, and her adopted parents love her."
The Shaoyang city statement said the cases of 14 infants were reviewed during the investigation. Eight had been abandoned by their parents and were later illegally adopted by local families, it said, and one was sent to an orphanage by unmarried biological parents. Five were in families that might have violated family planning rules and cheated authorities by saying the children were abandoned.
It didn't say whether the children had been reunited with their families or where they are now. It said the investigation found no evidence of human trafficking and that overseas adoptions in Shaoyang were carried out in line with relevant adoption regulations.
Wang Huaping, the spokesman for the Shaoyang Communist Party, declined to respond to questions about the investigation and referred a reporter to the online news release.
Associated Press researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.