Over 20,000 boys were being tolen annually in China in the early naughties and sold to wealthy couples who did not have a son.  Largely the consequence of the draconian One Child Policy and the social preference for sons and heirs.

The project was extremely challenging because the authorities in China wanted to keep the parents’ grievances from the general public and away from press attention.  They employed extreme measures to stop the parents talking about their stolen boys.  They considered the families with lost children, most of whome were poor migrants from the country-side, as trouble-makers.  They often locked up the group en-masse. On several occaisions the portable field studio was broken up  in a matter of minutes.

Aside from the emotional strain of losing their children to gangs of child stealers, the parents were often at the mercy of often, but not always, uncaring, authorities.

I met the parents at secret loactions where I interviewed and photographed them. The project took several years to organise and photograph .

Portraits were shot on a Mamiya 6 range finder in black and white and printed by hand in Hong Kong.

Mrs Xiang, 40, holds a picture of her son Ren Pan, who was 4 and half years old when he was stolen 9th September 2003. The message reads; “Hope my son can come back home safe.”

Picture of two little boys who were stolen. Ai Jin (left), 5 years old and Ai Yu (right), 4 years old lost in GuanDu district in Kumming city on 11 September 2001. Mother’s message reads; “Ai Jin, Ai Yu, we look forward you to coming back soon. Our hearts are broken without you.”

Mr and Mrs Ma holds a picture of her son Ma Purei, 3 and half years old, who was stolen March 22nd 2004. The message reads, “Papa and Mama are hoping that you will come home soon.” Mrs Ha and Mrs Ma is one of thousands of migrant mothers whose children have been stolen and sold to rich families desperate for a boy. Families are limited to a single child under the China’s ruthless One Child Policy.

Picture of a little boy, Pan Kun Kun, 5 years old, lost in GuanDu district in Kumming city on 1 October 2003. Message read writte by mother Pan Ben Xiang: “You are our everyting. We don’t have any extravagant hopes. We just want you to come home.”
Mother: Pan Ben Xiang