Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Six traffickers caught with five babies taken from disaster areas have been arrested in Jiangyou, Sichuan. Meanwhile the number of reported deaths from Sunday’s 6.4 aftershock in the city of Hanzhong in north-western Shaanxi province (but felt as far as Beijing) rose from four to six.

Police arrested a middle-aged man and five women aged 20 to 35 on 15 May for kidnapping five babies. They denied they had abducted them, claiming instead that an unidentified person promised them 1,500 yuan (US$ 225) if they took the five—a boy and four girls ranging in age from just a few days old to two months—to Linxin in Shandong.

The babies’ identity remains unknown but an spokeswoman for a children’s welfare centre that took them in said that she believed they were kidnapped around the time the quake struck, with some being taken from hospitals.

There is concern that such trafficking in stolen babies might not be uncommon. According to official figures at least 5,498 children have been left alone in the quake zone, either because they parents were dead or could not be located. But child abductions are also a consequence of China’s one-child policy which allows couples only one child.

Local media have reported that the Population and Family Planning Commission of Chengdu, one of the affected areas, will allow families who lost their only child or whose only child was “seriously disabled’ in the earthquake to have another.

The Commission will also suspend punitive charges for families who had violated the one-child policy in case their children were injured or disabled, or if their houses were seriously damaged.

Families who had more than one child but only one survived will not be required to pay the usual fine and surcharge. But fines and surcharges already paid would not be refunded.

The newspaper did not say whether the new “benefits” applied to all areas affected.

In the meantime the uproar over the number of children killed in collapsed school buildings is not dying down. About 9,000 teachers and schoolchildren are reportedly among the dead and missing, this out of the more than 85,000 people the government said were killed or left missing by the 12 May quake.

In Mianzhu the parents of pupils killed in the disaster took to the devastated streets of the city on Sunday, showing photos of their children, asking the government for justice under the eyes of the police, which did not intervene. They want representatives of the victims to participate in the investigation.

The quake, which damaged 13,451 schools in Sichuan alone, also destroyed at least eight churches and damaged another 20 in the mountain towns of Sichuan. These historically important buildings were built by Jesuits more than a century ago.

Catholics make up about 20,000 of the estimated 5 million left homeless. They lost everything and fear for the future. At present they are sheltering under tents.

Fr Jacob Li saw his church in Mianzhu collapse but continues to comfort the faithful.

Even though meetings are banned for fear of new aftershocks he asked local authorities to set aside a room as a chapel and allow him to celebrate Mass in an open square.