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Children from Forced Labor Get Free
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Police in Shanxi Province said on Friday that they had freed 251 slave workers, 80 of them children, from illegal brick kilns, iron and coal mines, pushing the total number of rescued laborers to 468.

The other 217 people, including 29 boys, were freed earlier this week in neighboring Henan Province in a slave worker mop-up campaign involving some 35,000 police.

The laborers, the youngest aged 8, were abducted by human traffickers and taken to the kilns, where they were beaten, starved and forced to work up to 16 hours a day without pay, police said.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have expressed concern over the incidents and ordered investigations, according to the China News Services.

Authorities in Shanxi said 5,200 police officers raided 769 brick kilns, small coal and iron mines in Linfen, Yuncheng and Jincheng cities, where most of the illegal brick kilns are concentrated.

Thirty-eight people were detained for questioning over allegations of kidnapping and forced labor, while another 120 were held in custody in Henan.

Meanwhile, police were hunting Heng Tinghan, the foreman of a kiln in Hongtong of Shanxi, who allegedly bought workers from human traffickers and forced them to haul bricks for months with no pay and little food.

Thirty-two people from 12 regions across the country were enticed or kidnapped to work as slaves in the kiln in Hongtong's Caosheng Village.

The workers, mostly young males, were forced to sleep on bricks inside the brickworks with doors were sealed from outside with wire, and windows barred to prevent their escape.

Some had horrific, festering wounds on their black feet and around their waist, presumably from burns from the kiln, local media reported.

Nine of the 31 freed slaves are mentally disabled. One worker was beaten to death last November.

The Hongtong government decided on Friday to pay the laborers a monthly salary of 1,410 yuan ($186) and offer each of them a compensation of 1,000 yuan ($130) with an official apology letter.

Local sources said the kiln was located in the courtyard of Wang Dongji, the Party secretary of the village. The kiln's boss was Wang Bingbing, his son.

The raids were prompted in part by an open letter posted online signed by a group of 400 fathers appealing for help in tracking down missing sons they believe were sold to kiln bosses in the past month.

The fathers accused Henan and Shanxi authorities of ignoring them or even protecting the kilns and human traffickers, saying about 1,000 children were being forced to work as slaves.

Yang Aizhi, a 46-year-old mother among the parents who alerted the public to the scandal, said her 16-year-old son went missing on March 8 and has been searching for him ever since.

Yang said she had been to more than 100 kilns in Shanxi and discovered that "most kilns were forcing children to do hard labor". Some children were still wearing their school uniforms.

"When the children were too tired to push carts, they were whipped by taskmasters," the mother said. She is yet to find her son.

By 8pm yesterday, 55 netizens had posted comments on the China Daily website, expressing their extreme anger.

A netizen called "Susan" said it was unbelievable that such things happened in modern China. Another named "concerned" said the local government cannot shirk its responsibility and must be held accountable.

(China Daily June 16, 2007)

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