News/Canada: The lost children

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Subject: News/Canada: The lost children
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Tue May 09 2000 - 08:03:59 EDT

The lost children
Jan Wong
The Globe and Mail, March 28, 2000

Windsor, Ont. -- For four Chinese teens, March is actually the cruellest
month. Gao Jianying turned 16 on March 8. He Shoumei turned 16 on Sunday.
Chen Daozhong and Lian Yong both turn 16 on Thursday. But this is no sweet
16. As soon as the last two blow out the candles on their birthday cakes,
all four will be shipped off to jail.

"I'm afraid," said Lian Yong, whose name means Brave. "I'm terrified, too,"
agreed Chen Daozhong, whose name means Bell. His eyes filled with tears as
he twisted his fingers and talked of his fears of being beaten by inmates.

At the moment, Brave, Bell and four girls, age 14 to 16, are under virtual
house arrest. Yet perhaps these teens are lucky. Social workers believe
they were rescued in the nick of time from well-organized U.S. pedophile
rings. If true, they are the newest -- and saddest -- twist in an unending
flow of illegal Chinese migration.

The teens, who are at a Windsor group home for young offenders, were caught
in early January trying to cross into the United States.

They are among the first unaccompanied Chinese minors from Fujian Province
alleged to have entered Canada illegally, trafficked by people-smugglers
known in Chinese as she tou, or snakeheads.

These snakeheads typically cover up-front costs, a package worth $20,000 to
$50,000, which includes false documents, transportation and safe houses,
not to mention round-the-clock escorts.

In exclusive interviews, the teens said they came to North America
believing they would attend school. Their illegal status makes that
improbable. What's more, they are so small it's hard to imagine that the
snakeheads intended them for restaurants and sweatshops, common
destinations for illegal migrants.

That leaves the sex trade. Southeast Asian countries have cracked down on
tourists seeking sex with children. To help pedophiles avoid jet lag and
perhaps a prolonged vacation in a foreign jail, minors are now being taken
to North America, child-advocacy groups say. Hard statistics aren't
available. But, asked why underaged boys were also coming over, one expert
speculated that pedophile networks have put out calls for boys, too.

"Someone has paid a lot of money for their transport. You can assume
somebody is waiting for them, and it's not to bring them to school," said
Jean-François Noël, legal adviser to the International Bureau of Children's
Rights in Montreal. "The parents might owe money. They will close their
eyes as to what their children are doing."

Street children here can be victimized as prostitutes, but their
experiences harden them into 14 going on 40. Pedophiles, of course, seek
innocence. And these Chinese teens are breathtakingly so, compared with
many Canadian teens. Several are only four feet and change. Only one has
reached the acne stage. And judging from their shocked response to
questions about sex, they are probably virgins, something snakeheads would

In post-arrest interviews with Children's Aid, the teens said they hadn't
been molested or raped by their handlers. Deflowering, after all, would
only devalue them as sex-trade commodities. Over a lunch of takeout Chinese
food, the teens gasped en masse and hid their burning faces when told that
social workers suspect they might have ended up in a prostitution ring.
Asked if they knew how babies are made, five ducked simultaneously. Only
Brave kept his head high. And only he and Bell knew what a condom was.

To understand how these naifs ended up in Canada, consider the typical
Chinese orphanage, where 95 per cent of unwanted babies are female.
Families will also sell daughters, against their will, for a pittance to
impoverished peasants who have no other way to obtain wives. In feudal
culture, boys are desirable and girls are disposable, and parents are
willing to pay fines to get what they want. Shoumei's baby sister, for
instance, was given away to strangers at birth. But her parents kept her
younger brother, who was born a year later.

Another teen, Zheng Jindong, whose name means East, is 14, the youngest of
the detained teens. Yet in her family, she was chosen to go with the
snakeheads while her 20-year-old brother stayed safely home.

Technically, Children's Aid should be in charge. And technically, the
overriding authority should be the United Nations Convention on the Rights
of the Child, which guarantees to "combat the illicit transfer" of children
abroad and protect them from "all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual

But Ottawa interprets the Immigration Act as superseding both the UN
convention and Children's Aid. That's partly because many previous illegals
who claimed refugee status and were released never showed up for their
hearings. It's also partly to protect them from falling back into the hands
of the snakeheads.

Thus, the six teens -- who are claiming refugee status -- cannot attend
school while they await the outcome of their cases, which could take a year
or more. And while the Young Offenders Act allows Canadian juveniles to
remain in the group homes where they began their sentences even after
passing their 16th birthdays, immigration laws force the Chinese teens into
jails for tougher youths, facilities with uniforms and guards.

"The girls may be okay, but the boys will be lambs," said Sungee John, a
Windsor community worker, who bought the teens a Chinese-English
dictionary. The home, which has never had refugee claimants before, has
decided to group the four who are turning 16 together for the transfer.

Even in the relatively benign setting of Windsor's Renaissance Home, where
the staffers hug them and feed them rice -- albeit Uncle Ben's -- the
Chinese teens seem especially vulnerable. They live with teens who are in
for such crimes as burglary and assault. Bell and Brave, for instance,
share a room with a 14-year-old in for smashing windows.

"He socks me on the head with a pillow while I'm sleeping," said Bell, who
is 5 foot 4. "I punch him back. He's about my height." Despite his bravado,
Bell didn't smile until recently. Staffers say he cried for half an hour
after his first phone call home.

Chen Xi, whose name means Hope, is a sprite -- just 4 foot 10 and 94
pounds. Last Sunday evening, she sat in the den, next to a muscle-bound
Canadian who playfully bopped her on the head, then settled beside her to
benchpress a barbell. When Hope turns 16 on May 3, she, too, will be
shipped off to jail, leaving only East.

The teens have some inkling of what's in store. Gao Jianying, whose name
means Oriole, was still 15 when she spent five nights in January in an
adult prison -- until the Department of Immigration realized its error.
Oriole said inmates threw water at her. Another Chinese girl, also
mistakenly assumed to be over 18, was kicked and punched in the common room.

"We had to cry softly," said Oriole, picking at the fuzz of her
hand-me-down Tweety Bird sweater. "Otherwise they'd curse us." Among the
English phrases she learned in jail: "Fuck you."

The teens' English vocabulary, aside from newly acquired swear words, is
limited to simple phrases. When Renaissance staff asked what they liked to
eat, they drew a picture of a pig. The teens speak both a Fuzhou dialect
and Mandarin, the official Chinese dialect.

In wide-ranging interviews in Mandarin over two days, they described the
individual journeys that took them from their villages in coastal Fujian
province to this Windsor group home. Oriole, East and Shoumei, whose name
means Beauty, said they flew together to Toronto, by way of Hong Kong and
Vancouver. In Vancouver, they stayed with people they did not know, then
flew to Toronto.

A day later they were taken to Chatham to meet a van driven by natives, who
took them to the border. They were arrested around 1 a.m. on Jan. 5 near
Walpole Island, a five-minute ferry ride from the U.S. border. Bell, Brave
and Hope said they flew separately to Toronto in late January. On Feb. 2,
they were arrested in a van at the Ambassador Bridge, which links Windsor
with Detroit. Six other illegals in the van were also detained.

The teens all say coming here was their parents' idea. "In the countryside,
if your parents tell you to do something, you do it," Oriole said. In
accordance with traditional Chinese respect for elders, they also addressed
the snakeheads as "uncle," "auntie" or "teacher." The teens spoke only when
spoken to. And they obeyed the snakeheads implicitly.

The teens contend they do not know how much money changed hands, if any, or
what promises were made. Telephone interviews this week with three of their
families in Fujian indicate that the parents are either venal, naive or
unusually stupid. Even when asked if they had any questions about their
child's predicament, they only wanted to know whether the teen would be
allowed to stay.

Beauty's father, a 41-year-old construction worker named He Wanbin,
couldn't remember when she had left home. He wasn't worried, he said, even
though his daughter has never written or called home. "Why should I worry?
She can do what she wants. Canada is a good place to study English." A
"friend," he added, had offered to take Beauty to Canada, all expenses
paid. "I didn't pay anything. The friend paid for all the costs of the

East's mother, a peasant named Chen Cuijuan, answered the phone, but passed
it to her son, Zheng Yu, 20. When asked why the family had allowed East to
go abroad alone, he conferred with his mother, then said, "I can't answer
this question." When asked how much they had paid, he conferred again, then
said, "I don't know."

Oriole's mother, a peasant named Gao Xiuyu, wouldn't answer when asked who
had paid for the trip. When asked if Oriole had come alone, or with others
her age, she hung up.

The Chinese teens could go home tomorrow. They face possible detention, if
China feels international pressure at that moment to control illegal
migration. Or their parents could be fined. But with the help of legal-aid
lawyers, the teens are applying for refugee status.

After lunch in the group home, they groped for the magic formula that would
allow them to stay. They all insisted, for instance, they weren't trying to
slip into the United States. And after two teens elicited interest for
saying their fathers worked as cooks in the United States, two others
belatedly claimed their fathers were also there, also working as cooks.

When the teens first arrived at Renaissance Home, they received a flurry of
telephone calls from a person or persons speaking Chinese, perhaps
snakeheads. A Chinese woman who said she was a relative was told by one of
the teens' lawyers that she must appear at a hearing. He never heard from
her again. The calls have also stopped.

Someone, though, has coached them on human-rights soft spots: coercive
population control and religious freedom. In interviews, Bell claimed,
improbably, that as one of three teenaged children in his family, he feared
beatings by Communist Party zealots. Brave claimed to be persecuted, again
unlikely, for burning incense at his ancestors' graves.

The girls claimed, without much conviction, to be persecuted Christians.
Asked who was Jesus's mother, Beauty answered: "St. Mary." Asked the tricky
theological question of who was Jesus's father, she and the other girls
drew a blank. They conferred, giggled in embarrassment and hid their faces
behind their sleeves.

As the first illegal migrants housed at Renaissance Home, the teens could
escape simply by pushing open the door of the split-level six-bedroom home.
Instead, like teenagers everywhere, they pass their days eating,
sleeping-in and watching television. In two and three months of detention,
they've gone out once for a snowball fight. And only Hope and Oriole say
they have also gone out -- once -- for a walk, in part because a staffer
must accompany them.

Asked if she should go back to parents who entrusted her to strangers, East
was tongue-tied. Asked how she felt now, she ducked her head. "Now," she
said sadly, "I've been arrested."
Melanie Orhant <<>>
Stop-traffic is facilitated, international electronic list
funded by the Women's Reproductive Health Initiative
of the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH)
dealing with human rights abuses associated with trafficking
in persons, with an emphasis on public health and trafficking
in persons for forced labor, including forced prostitution,
sweatshop labor, domestic service and some coercive mail
order bride arrangements.
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