China child trafficking
Chinese police officers with childern saved from trafficking rings Getty Images

A mobile app developed by China's online retail giant Alibaba has helped Chinese authorities find hundreds of missing children in 2016.

The Ministry of Public Security said 611 missing children were found last year owing to help from the Tuanyuan (reunion in Chinese) app. The app developed by Jack Ma-led Alibaba was launched in May and allowed police officers to share information and work together.

According to a Xinhua report (via Reuters), the app sends push notifications, including photos and descriptions to users near the location where a child has disappeared. If the child is still not found, notifications are sent to users farther and farther from the location of the disappearance, the report added.

An update of the app in November 2016 helped it to expand its reach through cooperation with other popular mobile apps, such as Alibaba's online shopping website Taobao, search engine Baidu , Tencent Holdings Ltd's instant messaging software QQ and mobile ride-sharing platform Didi Chuxing.

China has a rampant child trafficking problem which the government is trying to crack down upon. Since the one-child policy more and more demand for a male heir has cropped up as boys are seen as the main support for many elderly parents.

Although that policy has been phased out now, abortions, killings or abandonment of girls has been a common practice, especially in the rural parts of the country for so long. The trend has also created a criminal demand for baby girls destined to be future brides attracting rich dowries.