A couple in southern China were reunited with their missing teenage son in an emotional ceremony on Monday, ending their 14-year-search which inspired a hit movie.
Sun Zhuo, 18, was abducted in the city of Shenzhen in 2007 at age 4, but his parents never gave up hope they would see him again.
His father, Sun Haiyang, and mother, Peng Siying, sold properties to fund their search, and offered a reward of up to $31,000 for information on his whereabouts, Chinese state media reported.
Over the years, Sun Haiyang said he had traveled to nearly every region of China to look for his son, according to a website run by the Ministry of Public Security.
“Dearest,” a 2014 film by Hong Kong director Peter Chan based on Sun’s story grossed more than $50 million at the box office, according to IMDb, and brought the pervasive issue of child abduction and trafficking in China into the spotlight.
Experts say the problem was exacerbated by China’s one-child policy, which has been relaxed in recent years. For decades, those who had a second child were given heavy fines, or made to abort pregnancies.
Traditionally, families – especially those in rural areas – viewed boys as more able to provide for the family, and carry on the family line – driving a black market for infant boys, and pushing many families to give infant girls up for adoption.
Authorities tracked down Sun in the eastern province of Shandong after police used facial recognition technology to help them identify a suspect, surnamed Wu, who they accuse of abducting the boy, the ministry website said.
Sun’s identity was confirmed by DNA analysis, state media reported.
Wu has been detained in connection with two child abductions, including that of Sun, police said. Sun’s adoptive father and mother were bailed pending trial, state media reported.
In a twist to the tale, Sun told state media he would stay with his adoptive parents because they had raised him for more than 10 years and he was previously unaware of his true lineage.
Under Chinese law, the maximum punishment for human trafficking is death, while buyers of trafficked people can be jailed for up to three years.
It’s not clear how many children go missing in China every year, though estimates reach tens of thousands. China is ranked Tier 3 by the US State Department’s anti-trafficking agency – the lowest level, meaning the government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”
According to Chinese authorities, more than 8,000 abducted children have been reunited with their parents in 2021, with many cases solved using China’s massive police DNA database and technology such as facial recognition.
Additional reporting by CNN’s Jessie Yeung.