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After 32 Years, a Missing Son Is Reunited With His Parents in China

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A missing son who was kidnapped at a hotel in northwest China has been reunited with his family 32 years later.

Mao Yin was two years old when he was abducted at the entrance of a hotel in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province in 1986, reports the SCMP. He was sold into another family in a different part of the country and raised under a different name and police embarked on a country-wide search. On Monday, 32 years after his parents launched a campaign to find him, his tearful reunion with them was televised on China’s state broadcaster.

State media said Xi’an police received a tip-off in April about the case from neighboring Sichuan province. Using facial recognition technology and later, DNA testing, Mao’s identity was confirmed earlier this month.

After Mao’s disappearance, his mother, Li Jingzhi, said that she quit her job and sent out more than 100,000 flyers to find her missing son. Over the past two decades, she has appeared on multiple television shows appealing for the plight of missing children across China, and in 2007, she started volunteering with a group named Baobeihuijia (Baby Come Home), a database of parents who have missing children and children who are searching for their parents. The group says it has helped more than 3,000 families reunite and has the records of more than 51,000 parents looking for their children. State media said Li had helped 29 missing children find their families, and that she pledged to continue her work to fight abduction.

Digital efforts from citizens, like Baobeihuijia, as well as advances in technology have helped to reunite families in recent years. In 2009, China’s Ministry of Public Security launched a DNA database of missing children, which helped reunite 6,000 families, and in 2016, it launched an online system, which has helped find more than 4,000 missing children. Police used facial recognition technology to model Mao’s adult appearance using a childhood photo, and compared the projection to photographs from a national database, CNN reports.

And while there are no reliable figures for the number of children abducted in the country each year, experts say it’s likely to be upwards of 20,000. Last year, the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report placed China in its lowest rank, Tier 3, noting that the country “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.” Experts say that the price for abducted and trafficked infant boys tends to be higher than for girls, driven by a traditional cultural preference for boys in the family. The SCMP reports that Mao was sold to a childless couple for 6000 yuan, the equivalent of about $845 today.

“I would like to thank the tens of thousands of people who helped us,” said Li Jingzhi, Mao’s mother, at the reunion on Monday. State media reported that Mao, who runs a home decoration business in Sichuan, would spend time with his parents in Xi’an, before thinking about his next steps. “To be honest, I’m not quite sure about the future yet,” he said.

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