Angry Chinese citizens are fed up with the huge number of child snatchings each year and are taking matters into their own hand to stem the heartbreaking tide.

At least 70,000 children are kidnapped annually, though some estimates put the number as high as 200,000. That compares with up to 200 a year of similar kidnappings in the US.

The government hasn't been effective in stopping the crime. So now citizens are fighting kidnapping gangs using apps and alert systems, and drawing up petitions demanding that the criminals face the death penalty, reports the Global Post.

Under Chinese law, children can only be reported missing after 24 hours, which parents say is often far too late.

A Nanjing shopping mall now has an alert system to report missing family members. Momo, a popular dating app, can be used as a kind of mass alert system by any of its 78 million users to report kidnap victims in their area. The feature was developed with the volunteer group Baobeihujia — "Baby Come Home" — and has reportedly helped reunite children with some 1,000 families.

Most of the kidnapped children are grabbed by gangs to sell to families desperate for a child, particularly for a male heir. Others are sold to become beggars, prostitutes or slave labourers.

The government insists some new measures are helping. A DNA database launched in 2009 has helped identify and return home some 3,500 children, say officials. But in one boy's tragic tale, known throughout China, the DNA database wasn't used. Kidnapped Wang Zhiqiang, 13, was found by police but he died of malnourishment in a state shelter six months after his "rescue." Investigators never bothered to do a DNA test to match it to his father's in the database.