04/23/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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Child slaves still working in China’s brick kilns

Abducted in one place and taken far away, China’s child slaves are sold for as little as US$ 45, beaten into submission and forced to work. The police however shows little concern for the missing person reports filed by parents who have to look for their children on their own across the country.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “Guo Jiyong, the son of Zhang Aihua,” travelled “to Zhengzhou to sell snacks, and to deliver lunchboxes to construction sites. He was stuffed into a sack by three men, thrown into the back of a truck, and taken off to the brick kilns to be sold,” Wang Changyi told Radio Free Asia. The slavers “were selling people at 300 yuan (US$ 44 ) each” and kidnapping “seven or eight people a day,” said Wang, a farmer from Henan who lost his son to slave traders, as he described the flourishing slave trade in China. Little seems to have changed in the People’s Republic since cases of slave labour came to light in June 2007 when it was revealed that brick kilns in Shanxi and Henan were employing child slaves.

Guo was forced to work for two and a half years in an illegal brick kiln in Nanyang. During that time he saw people beaten to death for trying to escape. Then, one night he escaped with two other inmates. They were caught and killed. He was able to make it home.

He said that guards would often beaten them to the point that inmates were so scared that they would not dare speak out even when people from the outside came to inquiry about other kids.

Liu Wenjie, 15, another farmer’s son, was also rescued from a brick kiln in Kaifeng (Henan).

“If you did your work every day, they wouldn't beat you,” he said. But “you had to start work when you got up in the morning, take a break for lunch, and carry on working until nightfall.”

Hundreds of children are kidnapped in cities like Zhengzhou, busy railway hubs and bus terminals, Wang said.

In June 2007 a scandal broke out when reports revealed that hundreds of people were enslaved in brick kilns in Shanxi, Henan and elsewhere; forced to work without pay, little food and beaten to a pulp for any reason.

The authorities intervened. According to official media more than 55,000 police agents were mobilised to inspect thousands of factories. Almost 600 “slaves” were freed, including minors and mentally disabled people. Hundreds of people were arrested, tried and sentenced to set an example. But nothing really changed.

Today parents complain that the police is indifferent to their plight, unwilling to look for missing children, turning down requests for inspection in specific places, like in Miao Lisong’s case who discovered an illegal factory in Yongji.

For this reason parents have organised themselves into groups and have started to look on their own for their children in the country’s many illegal factories.

Wang and his wife will not give up. “We only had the one child. We can't have another anyway because my wife has been sterilized,” he said. “How are we to spend the rest of our lives?” if not looking for our missing boy.

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