Shanxi Governor Yu Youjun yesterday made a self-criticism on behalf of the provincial government for the recent slavery cases in illegally-run brick kilns and mines across the province.
The rare move came during a meeting of the State Council, or the Cabinet, presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao.
The State Council heard a preliminary report on the handling of the scandal compiled by an investigation group comprising the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, the Ministry of Public Security and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.
Thousands of rural people, many of them children, were reportedly abducted, beaten, imprisoned and forced into slave labor in Shanxi's brickyards in the past years, stirring anger nationwide. The media have pointed to possible collusion between local officials and kiln owners and alleged cover-ups.
The meeting noted that the slavery cases involved not only abduction by gangsters, but deliberate injury and murder.
It asked government departments to go all out to crack down on such criminal activities and save the victims to "safeguard social justice".
"The criminals should face the full force of the law and the rights of the public, particularly children, must be protected," said the meeting.
To prevent a recurrence of such cases, a large-scale investigation will be launched nationwide into laborers employed in small kilns and collieries.
About 160 suspects have been detained in Shanxi and Henan.
By Sunday night, about 45,000 police personnel had raided more than 8,000 kilns and small coal mines in the two provinces and freed 591 workers, including 51 children.
The State Council ordered the Shanxi provincial government to step up the investigation into the scandal and compensate the victims.
It also urged local governments and central ministries to learn a lesson from the tragedy.
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency June 21, 2007)