I live in a busy city in the south of China not far from Hong Kong. I work in the city so I often commuted to work by train.
The trains are crowded during peak hour and many of us have to resort to standing up the whole way.
However on this day, a woman caught my eye as Chinese people in China are fashionable and wear brand name clothing. Their styles are up to date with all the current trends.
Only this time, a woman with large, out of place, brown overcoat boarded the train too. She stood out. She appeared poor and her hair was not styled like I would expect. You would be forgiven if you thought I was judgemental at this point.
After the train left the station, the woman removed her coat revealing dirty tattered clothes. She was a beggar and she had snuck onto the train.
Beggars are forbidden by law to beg on a train and this woman had clearly snuck in to beg without any security guards or police to stop her. She also took out a dirty, metal bowl and held it out in front of her while she crawled around begging commuters.
To really pull at our heart strings, she carried around her baby boy with her, he was strapped to her back. The boy appeared heavily fatigued.
We all felt sorry for the boy being carried around like that. The mother was clearly very poor and was begging for money to feed and take care of her obvious sick child. We have her money.
After I donated to her, I took photos of the woman and her boy because no body would believe me if I told them what I saw today.
The next day I took the train to work again. And the same thing happened again. A different woman with a big, out of placed brown coat. She too, begged for money and carried her child strapped around her back. Deja vu.
At that point, alarm bells went off for me and I took more photos. This time, I knew it was a scam because it was a repeat of yesterday. In China, if it happens more than once, it’s usually a scam.
I wasn’t having any of it.
I told the other passengers who weren’t aware of yesterday’s events to not give them any money as they’re a gang and they’re scamming people. I took photos of her. She got angry and tried to take my phone off me, but I simply pulled away from her and went to another part of the train.
Later that night after returning home, I uploaded the photos to my computer and to go through them. That’s when I made this horrifying realisation. The boys on both days was actually the same boy.
This infuriated me. Not only were these women scammers and involving innocent children in their deceitful ways, but that boy did not deserve this.
The following day I decided to get there much earlier to try and find the next beggar at the train station.
As I walked around the station on the floor by some steps, I saw the two women eating some cheap food with some men I hadn’t seen before. The boy was also there with him but he was fast asleep on a the floor.
This was indeed an organised scam.
I knew that if I caught the woman before she got on the train, I could try and save the boy from this gang. The train approached some minutes later, only this time I waited by the doors for one of the women in their oversized coat to board again.
And like clockwork, the woman from two days ago walked towards the door I was standing at. This time though, I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her away from the train. I clearly startled her and she tried to resist, yelling at me to let her go and shouting for help.
The guards rushed over confused and automatically suspected me of harassing her. I’m not native Chinese, so I automatically get targeted by authorities for any situation that involves a Chinese person because they side with their own first.
I explained to them in Mandarin, that she was a begging on the train two days ago and had a child under her coat.
If the woman didn’t look homeless, I would have never in a million years, have gotten out of this situation without going to jail for harassing a woman, because I’m a foreigner.
The guards called police on their radio who were only moments away. While we waited, I explained to the guards that the boy under her coat is not hers and that he is severely unwell.
Hundreds of Chinese faces are staring at us, trying to work out what was going on.
Finally, police officers come to where we were at the station. After the guards explained the situation to the police, they forced the woman to remove her coat.
I think she realised that she had no where to go and no way to get out of the situation, because she hesitantly took her coat off and dropped it to the ground, revealing the poor boy strapped to her back.
The guards were shocked at what they were seeing. They did not believe a boy would be strapped under her coat, it would have been very difficult for him to breath fresh hair.
This also being the south of China, the weather is very hot and humid, and it isn’t the weather you wear a coat in, so we were deeply concerned for the boy’s well being.
The police officers took the boy away from the woman by one of the police officers and the other handcuffed her. They left the station and I caught my train.
I remember sitting down and feeling many people staring at me, still unsure as to what happened. I didn’t say anything and I kept to myself. There was no use trying to talk to them as they may get the wrong idea and may have thought that the woman was wrongly arrested because I paid them off.
I later found out that the child had been kidnapped two days ago from his family. He was also drugged which is why he looked fatigued.
I never saw the women or the any metro train again.
I was new to China but due to submersing myself into the culture, I learned that gangs often steal children from family. Children are stolen from the street while playing, from their schools and even from out of their own mother’s arms.
They are taken to other parts of the country and in some cases, the children are killed once they outgrow their purpose or if they are too difficult to use.