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Kids playing in Hunan Province, China
Kids playing in Hunan Province, China
Laura Lin

A county in China long known for its poets and philosophers is now in the news for something far more notorious — renting out children as thieves for hire.

In Dao county in the southern Chinese province of Hunan, a child can be rented for 200 yuan ($29) a day, or 50,000 yuan ($7200) a year, according to a recent article in the online news outlet Sina.

The website reports that one reason for the popularity of the illegal practice is that parents used to be fined heavily for having more than one child, a Chinese politburo policy that was recently reversed. Renting out an older child was seen as a way to pay for a new arrival.

Recently, police caught three women and three children for stealing, Sina reports. The publication described their modus operandi as such: While one woman keeps an eye out outside the store being targeted, two others distract the store owner. Since no one pays attention to the children, they are free to grab cash and valuables from the cash register, before letting the women know it's time to leave. And if for example they manage to steal an iPhone, the rule is to switch it off immediately and then tug at the skirt of one of the adults.

Police haven't charged the women with theft in this case, Sina reports. Instead, the women involved are accused of inciting children to commit an offense — a more serious charge.

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