06/17/2008, 00.00
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Children sold as slaves in rich Guangdong

A newspaper denounces a genuine criminal network for entrapping minors with promises of good jobs, and "renting them out" as slaves to the factories. With no fear of checks by lax authorities.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Children sold as slaves.  One year after the scandal of slave-workers in the brick factories in Shanxi, which exploded in May of 2007, the Chinese media denounce a genuine criminal networks for procuring "child-slaves" for the factories in rich Guangdong, amid general indifference. The China Labour Bullettin, which defends workers' rights, sounds an urgent alarm.

At the end of April, the Southern Metropolitan Daily charged that more than 1,000 children from the poor region of Liangshan are working as slaves in factories in the Pearl River Delta.  Almost all of them are under the age of 16, taken from their families with the promise of easy, well-paid jobs, but then taken to unfamiliar places, beaten to make them obedient, and forced to work at strenuous jobs with little food. In Shipai (Dongguan), there is a mini-market where children stand in line, with their few belongings, waiting to be "chosen".

One reporter pretended to be a buyer: the "seller" struck the children, to demonstrate their obedience, and proposed "renting them" for 3.5 yuan an hour (35 euro cents).  He showed him a contract in which the "employer" committed to making the children work 300 hours per month (10 hours per day, with no days off) or in any case to pay the "trafficker" an equivalent price.  He explained that it is possible "to make them work as long as you want, at any job, no matter how difficult", and that he would take care of the children in case of illness or accidents, "for reasonable compensation".

The "phenomenon" is widespread: a local official told the reporter that these children cost between 2.5 and 3.8 yuan per hour, do not ask for benefits, and work diligently, making them highly prized by the factories in Shipai, which employ at least 6-700 of them.

The newspaper provides details, places, circumstances, and sent its journalists to Liangshan as well, where they entered into contact with the people who convince families to entrust their children to them for a good job.  These provide assurances that the children are destined for serious companies, "in Dongguan, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Huizhou, Jiangmen".  It is a true human trafficking network.  The journalists contacted various agencies in the cities that offer "temporary workers", and asked for child workers from Liangshan: they were told that "if you want to select them in person, you must go to Dongguan.  They're all there".

The reporter asked someone how to avoid inspections.  "It's easy", was the answer," we make them all over the age of 18", with false documents.

There have been immediate investigations, and the deputy mayor of Dongguan, Li Xiaomei, says that in two days of raids more than 3,600 companies were checked, with 450,000 workers, without finding anything.  Shame that the Southern Metropolitan Daily reported that according to police sources, 167 children kidnapped from Sichuan were liberated during these checks.  Another public official recounts that a group of 20 officials came from Liangshan to Dongguan, to help bring the children back home.

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