February 24, 2022
BEIJING – Seventeen people, including the top officials in Fengxian county, Jiangsu province, have been held accountable for a high-profile case of a trafficked woman that has angered the public since late January.
The nation was shocked when a video of, Xiaohuamei, wearing only light clothing and eating poor-quality food, went viral on social media.
The mentally ill woman, who had given birth to eight children, was confined in a dilapidated hut with an iron chain around her neck. Many outraged netizens demanded a thorough investigation into the case.
According to the investigative team established by Jiangsu authorities on Feb 17－which said that it went through more than 1,000 profiles and conducted more than 4,600 interviews－Xiaohuamei had been bought by her husband’s father in June 1998.
Xiaohuamei was born in 1977 and was a villager from Fugong county, Yunnan province. That was confirmed by the Ministry of Public Security by comparing her DNA with possible relatives, checking the registered residence profiles in Yunnan and visiting the neighborhood, said a report issued on Wednesday by an investigative team of the Jiangsu Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China and the provincial government.
Portrait identification experts from the ministry confirmed that Xiaohuamei’s facial features were consistent with her wedding photos, the photo on her ID card and the screenshots on Chinese social media, dispelling the rumor that she was a different missing woman.
According to the investigative team’s findings: she returned to the village of Yagu, Fugong county, after her first marriage ended in 1997; her speech and behavior appeared abnormal; in 1998, she was trafficked to Donghai county, Jiangsu, by a woman surnamed Sang and her husband surnamed Shi.
Investigators believe Xiaohuamei was first sold to a man surnamed Xu for 5,000 yuan ($791) in early 1998, and she disappeared in May that year. Then a couple operating a restaurant in Xiayi county are thought to have found Xiaohuamei and sold her to two migrant workers one month later. And finally, the two migrant workers brought her to Fengxian county and sold her to the father of her current husband Dong.
Sang and her husband have been arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, and Xu has been detained on suspicion of buying her.
Her husband, Dong, was arrested on charges of abuse on Tuesday. Police say that Dong confined Xiaohuamei by placing an iron chain around her neck and tying her up with ropes or strips of cloth. He did not send her to hospital for treatment when she had an episode of schizophrenia.
Authorities have confirmed that Xiaohuamei and Dong are the biological parents of the eight children. After giving birth to her first son in 1999, Xiao did not give birth again until 2011, due to contraceptive failure. From 2011 to 2020, she bore seven more children.
The Institute of Evidence Law and Forensic Science at China University of Political Science and Law and Nanjing Brain Hospital’s forensic sciences institute confirmed that she suffers from schizophrenia and cannot communicate normally due to her current mental state.
She is now receiving treatment in Xuzhou for schizophrenia and severe chronic periodontitis. The dental disease, rather than domestic violence, has caused some of her teeth to fall out, the investigative team found.
Lou Hai, Party secretary of Fengxian county, has been removed from his post, and the resignation of the head of the county, Zheng Chunwei, has been demanded. Fifteen others were punished for failing in their duties through formalism, bureaucracy, not verifying facts and releasing false information to the public.
The county denied in previous reports that Xiaohuamei’s case involved human trafficking.
According to authorities, the local civil affairs department has provided an allowance to Xiaohuamei and her family to ensure their basic living costs, and the local education department has helped her children with education.
Xiaohuamei’s children and elderly family members have been taken care of by volunteers and villagers, and the custody of her minor children will be determined after a verdict is reached in the case, according to authorities.
Jiangsu authorities have launched a campaign across the province to crack down on crimes that infringe upon the rights of women, children and people with mental issues or disabilities, the investigative team said.