Since August, South Korea has confiscated 17,500 capsules containing the powdered flesh of dead babies, which smugglers had tried to bring into the country from China, officials say. South Korea refuses to elaborate on where the dead babies were procured or who manufactured the capsules, "citing possible diplomatic friction with Beijing," says Hyung Jin Kim for The Associated Press. But the crackdown has turned the world's attention on a heinous practice, and brought to light some of its gruesome details. Here, a guide to the controversy:
Why would anyone want powdered baby flesh?
The capsules are "thought by some to cure disease and boost stamina," says the BBC. However, nothing could be further from the truth. South Korean officials say that the capsules contain "super bacteria" that are harmful to humans, and that the crackdown is necessary to protect the South Korean public from a health hazard.
Where do the capsules come from?
The capsules seized by South Korea "were made in northeastern China from babies whose bodies were chopped into small pieces and dried on stoves before being turned into powder," says Kim. The manufacturers are reportedly ethnic Koreans in northeastern China, near the border with North Korea. It's thought that they obtained the remains from hospitals and abortion clinics, using both dead infants and fetuses.
Has anyone been prosecuted?
No. The smugglers say they were tricked into believing the capsules were "ordinary" stamina enhancers. They have not been punished because the capsules were meant for personal consumption, not sale, and the amount of contraband was considered too small to press charges. The capsules were reportedly smuggled in luggage or by international mail.
Have similar allegations been made before?
Yes. In 2011, a South Korean television network reported similar claims, saying it had found a hospital that sold baby remains, and had filmed the capsules being produced. The network said DNA tests showed that the material in the capsules was a 99.7 percent match with humans.
What does China say?
The Chinese government says it is investigating the claims. However, it insists that it strictly oversees the disposal of infant and fetal remains.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- Why so many Christians won't back down on gay marriage
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- How to be the star of a cocktail party where you don't know anyone
- The girl who wouldn't die
Subscribe to the Week