China is investigating whether hundreds of children, most aged between nine and 16, were sold to factories in Guangdong Province over the past five years to work as slave laborers, state media said.
Chinese authorities inspected more than 3,600 businesses in Dongguan, the center of the child labor scandal, state press reported yesterday, after children were found working in factories.
The children worked long hours in factories for about US$0.35 an hour, reports said on Wednesday, in echoes of a brick kiln slavery ring that shocked the world last year.
More than 1,000 minors were reportedly found to be working in factories in Dongguan and in nearby Shenzhen and Huizhou, which are also key to Chinese exports.
“In the 3,000-plus factories that we have already inspected, we did not come across a situation of large-scale use of child labor,” Li Xiaomei (李小梅), deputy mayor of Dongguan, told the Southern Metropolis Newspaper.
The probe was launched following the state-run newspaper’s publication on Monday of an investigative report that said the children were “sold like cabbages” by their parents to gangs who then sold them off to employment agencies or directly to factories hundreds of kilometers from their homes.
Most of the children were from Liangshan, a poor farming town in Sichuan Province.
Police have so far rescued 167 children in the city, the Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po said on Wednesday.
Authorities have set up a task force to rescue other children. So far, 3,629 businesses involving 450,000 employees have been investigated, Li said.
“The government has a very clear cut attitude towards the illegal use of child laborers, and we will resolutely crack down on it. When we find one child laborer, that business will be investigated,’’ Li was quoted as saying yesterday.
The government would also fine the companies as much as 50,000 yuan (US$7,200) if caught, he said.
The initial investigation found that some of the businesses had employed temporary workers from “illegal middle-men,” which could have included child workers, Li told the paper.
He said they had all left the factories before the media reports came out, the Southern Metropolis Newspaper.
The Guangzhou Daily described following police on Tuesday in Dongguan as they questioned young factory workers.
One girl named Luo Siqi from Liangshan said she made 4 yuan per hour, and she initially claimed to have come to Dongguan on her own.
When told by police that the money she thought she was sending home could not have reached her family, she broke down in tears, the paper said.
“My father and mother sold me; I don’t want to go back,” Luo was quoted as saying.