06/15/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Modern-day slaves are beaten and buried alive as police looks the other way

Freed “slaves” tell their horrific stories. Rescued by relatives they talk about police indifference. Children lured with promises of jobs are kidnapped and forced to work like adults. Factory owners threaten and beat parents who try to rescue their children and those of other parents.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Zhang Yinlei was lured into slavery with promises of a job at a brick factory. Instead he worked for months seeing his fellow workers beaten to death. Only by accident did his father find out and came to his rescue. His story of enslavement is not unique; it is one of many in 21st Century China, the new land of prosperity and boom times.

Yinlei’s father, Zhang Shanlin, told the South China Morning Post that his son was trapped when he tried to find a job after graduating in March from a vocational school in Zhengzhou (Henan). The boy was forced to work 15 to 16 hours a day and anybody who tried to escape was beaten. Workers “were treated like the dead.”

On April 26 his son and five other workers were almost burned alive when they were forced to move bricks in a searing hot kiln. All six were severely hurt but were locked up in the factory and given no treatment for over a month.

It was only after a client from Hongdong County told police about the injured workers that the owner sent the six to a hospital for treatment. But the police still did not contact the victims' families.

Using a cellphone borrowed from the relative of another patient, Zhang Yinlei called his father who arrived on May 29. In the hospital the factory owner even demanded Mr Zhang pay his son's medical bill. The police instead did nothing.

Since the factory's owner was a village party secretary “he was protected by local officials and police,” Mr Zhang said.

When he went to pick up his son's student identity documents at the brick factory, he saw several dozen workers, including four to five aged around 12 to 14, he said.

Stories like this are not exceptional. Zhou Yong said that he went to work in a brick factory in Hebei province when he was 17; that was seven years ago. He was beaten as soon as he arrived and forced to work 16 hours a day for little food.

He was able to escape and go to the police who simply sent him to a bus station but refused to rescue the other kids at the factory. There were at least 20 other boys working there, malnourished and thin, he said.

Jiu Wenjie was 15 when he went missing in January in Zhengzhou. His parents have been looking for him ever since. His mother Zhang Xiaoying said that she visited hundreds of kilns where she saw children working like adults.

Chai Wei, whose son went missing in April, said he knew of other parents who had rescued about 100 workers since March, including 41 children—one just eight years old. But kiln owners tried their best to intimidate and beat them up in order to chase them away.

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