09/14/2007, 00.00
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Dying at 16 to pay for studies

Many schools have little or no state aid and they exploit child labour convincing students to undertake summer “work placements” in unhealthy factories for longer hours and less pay than adults, with their salaries given over to the school to pay their fees. The story of one young girl who died from overwork and lack of care.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – June 24 2007 Liang Xiaowen, a 16 year old student from Maoming (Guangdong), began a summer work placement, found for her by the school, in order to pay for scholastic fees.  She died a month later from viral encephalitis, due to lack of care and assistance and weakened by 11 hours working days in the factory.   Her case is emblematic of how the very schools, minimally supported by the State, exploit child labour to survive.

The China Labour Bullettin, the prestigious internet site that campaigns for workers rights, notes that Xiaowen’s  father was seriously ill and suffered from long-term paralysis, and her mother could only earn 200 Yuan a month (24 dollars) to support the entire family. Thus she accepted the South China Electrical Engineering College proposal to become an apprentice in the Pusheng Plastics in Dongguan for 900 Yuan a month, in order to pay school fees and earn some money for home.

Together with 30 classmates, she paid 165 Yuan for the journey and “administrative fees”.  But once in the factory they were put to work for over 11 hours a day without a single day off. Many fell ill with sore throats, flu, and fever.  Xiaowen's symptoms were the most severe; after three days of a high fever she started to lose consciousness and her body went into convulsions.  The local hospital diagnosed the problem as viral encephalitis.  Liang Xiaowen died on 27 July.

The factory management later denied Xiaowen's death was work related, blaming an “outbreak of flu” at the factory, and claiming that the school organizing the student workers was ultimately responsible for their welfare.  The South China Electrical Engineering College, which had recruited a total of 300 students to work in factories in Dongguan and Shenzhen over the summer vacation, likewise denied any responsibility for her death, saying it was “an unfortunate accident”.

Often the State does not fund schools, particularly rural ones, and many scholars cannot pay the rate.  Thus many schools in order to survive organise “summer work programmes” (shuqigong) or “study internships” (qingong jianxue). Beside real apprenticeships there are exploited students, who work in unsafe factories for longer hours and less pay than adults, with their salaries given over to the school to pay their fees. Often no-one cares for the students, because the schools and factories shrug all responsibility onto the others shoulders.

 “Liang Xiaowen died, - concludes the Clb - not only because she contracted encephalitis, but because she was weakened after being forced to work 11 hours a day and no one thought it was their responsibility to provide her with proper medical care when she first fell ill”.


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