The head of a hospital in China has been detained as part of an investigation into whether it worked with gangs to give kidnapped youngsters new identities, China Central Television reported on Tuesday.
Officials in Xiangyang, in Hubei province, said earlier they were looking into a social media user’s claim that the head of Jianqiao Hospital was was colluding online with unnamed people to sell birth certificates and other paperwork to traffickers who sold children across 10 provinces.
The social media user said the documents cost some 96,000 yuan (US$13,180), and the process of getting them for a child could be completed within seven days. It wasn’t immediately clear how many children were involved.
The social media user did not immediately respond to messages from Bloomberg News seeking comment. Phone calls to the hospital were not answered.
The People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, said in a commentary on Tuesday that officials would “investigate and deal with the matter seriously with impartiality” and the public would get an explanation.
The remarks are seen as an attempt to prevent a repeat of incidents in the past in which the Chinese public has grown angry with their government over perceived failures.
Last year, officials in Jiangsu province were accused of downplaying the plight of a mother of eight children who was found chained by the neck in a rural shack.
Censors later buried a letter signed by alumni of Peking University that called for the central government to look into the matter, a rare public challenge to the regime of President Xi Jinping.
There have been signs that the birth certificate scandal is touching a nerve with the Chinese public. The hashtag on Weibo had been viewed some 200 million times as of Tuesday afternoon.
The government has redoubled efforts in recent years to clamp down on child abductions. The problem was rampant in the decades after reforms started around 1978, when rule of law was weaker and families moved around the country more often for work, leaving children unsupervised.
The Ministry of Public Security said last year that cases involving trafficking of women and child abduction were down by 88% over the previous decade.
The ministry set up a system called Tuan Yuan, or Reunion, in 2016 that sent out broad alerts to help law enforcement find missing youngsters. Then in 2021, authorities launched a 10-year action plan to further deal with human trafficking and kidnappings.