06/20/2007, 00.00
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Schools sending under age students to work

A Sichuan middle school has set up eight-month internships with a company in Guangdong. Many of the students are under 16. Scheme is ostensibly designed to help students pay for school fees. Working 14 hours a day, they make US$ 65 a month, far away from home. Fear of publicity forces company officials to send the kids back home, but that might not last.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – About 300  Sichuan students—mostly under 16, working 14-hour days (8 am to 11 pm with a lunch break) for 500 yuan (US$ 65) a month, without the right to call home—have been sent back to school before a team of county investigators arrived to look into child labour claims.

A newspaper report said that the Longzheng Connector Component Factory in Dongguan's Shijie Township (Guangdong) bussed out more than 300 Yilong county students after a tip-off from the township labour bureau. But they might not stay in school for long.

According to the South China Morning Post, the students had been working in the factory under an eight-month internship scheme backed by their school, the Dayin Middle School. The scheme is designed to help poor students earn enough money to cover school fees.

A Yilong County Education Bureau official said the team of education and labour department officials went to the factory and found no abuses of the students still working there, but ordered the students back to school because the issue had become public.

“We will let the students study in school [for] at least one year first. If they need to, we may send them to do internships at the factory again next year.” He did not explain the long hours and low pay, half the minimum wage for adults, but simply said that working conditions are decided by the Education Department.

In Guangdong, one of China’s most industrialised provinces, labour shortages have led to high wages. But in the case of Longzheng students’ wages were withheld. In some instances, those who wished to call home could not do so.

China does have laws against child labour, but for work-study programs, there are no specific rules, and no limitations on age, working hours or job description. In Guangdong children as young as 12 end up working in factories.

Yuan Guangyao, Longzheng deputy manager, defended his company. “This internship is a form of cooperation between our company and the school,” he said. “This initiative of having students work here is a win-win strategy for both of us.”

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