A dating website in China has emerged as the source of a message calling for execution of all child traffickers. The message flooded Chinese social media and sparked heated public debate over the past few days.

Zhenai.com, one of China’s most used dating site, issued a statement on Friday apologising for “the disturbances it has caused in society.” The statement said a staff member had initiated the “marketing behaviour” to promote the site without seeking approval from management. The company vowed to “take up social responsibility and spread more positive energy in the future.”

Starting on Wednesday, messages calling for the government to amend the law to sentence all child traffickers to death and people who buy kids to life in prison were circulated widely on social media platforms including Wechat and Weibo. Some of the messages came with pictures of crying children.

Viral message on Chinese social media calls for execution of child traffickers. Photo: Weibo.

News websites including ifeng.com and xinhuanet.com conducted surveys asking people if they agreed with indiscriminate executions of all child traffickers. As of Thursday afternoon, both websites recorded over 80% of participants agreed.

Meanwhile, legal professionals and some public figures came out to oppose the trending message, saying indiscriminate executions went against the spirit of the rule of law. Some doubted executions would be effective in stopping crime.

Under current Chinese law, child trafficking is punishable by a minimum of five years in prison or execution. Netizens later found some of the messages included a clickable “thank you” note to Zhenai.com.

Child trafficking is a serious social issue in China. In 2013 China Daily reported an estimated 70,000 children go missing in the country every year for forced labour, adoption or prostitution.

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Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.