Brick factory slaves 'treated like the dead'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2007, 12:00am

Father tells how kiln's managers refused medical help for his severely burned son

Zhang Yinlei and five other workers lured into slavery at a brick factory in Shanxi were almost burned alive when they were forced to move bricks in a searing hot kiln on April 26.

All six were severely hurt but were locked up in the factory and given no treatment for over a month, according to Zhang Yinlei's father, Zhang Shanlin .

'The brick factory's business was good and the supervisors there couldn't wait [for the kiln to cool down] and forced my son and another five to work in the kiln when the bricks were not yet done,' the angry father said in a telephone interview.

'When they refused, they beat them up. They just lay there and were given no treatment. They were treated like the dead.'

It was only after a client of the factory in Hongdong county told police about the injured workers that its owner sent the six to a hospital for treatment.

At that time, Zhang Yinlei's wounds were already infected and the burns on is legs were so severe that he could not walk. But the factory owner and the police still did not contact the victims' families.

'A relative of a patient in the hospital felt sorry for my son and my son borrowed his [mobile] phone and called me to rescue him,' the father said. 'When I arrived there on May 29, the other five still had not contacted their families.'

At first the factory owner even demanded Mr Zhang pay his son's medical bill, but the issue was dropped after Mr Zhang said he had no money and reported the matter to the police.

Mr Zhang said his son had been trapped when he tried to find a job after graduating in March from a vocational school in Zhengzhou , Henan . The boy was forced to work 15 to 16 hours a day and anybody who tried to escape was beaten.

'My son told me that one guy was beaten so badly that his leg was broken,' Mr Zhang said.

He said that when he visited his son in the hospital, other workers injured in the kiln incident told him they saw two workers, about 18 or 19 years old, buried alive after they were seriously beaten.

'They said they saw two men badly beaten. Although they were not yet dead, they were buried,' he said.

Mr Zhang said he was furious the police had not done anything about the factory's owner, who was a village party secretary and a Hongdong county people's congress representative.

'He was protected by local officials and police,' Mr Zhang said.

When Mr Zhang went to pick up his son's student identity documents at the brick factory, he saw several dozen workers, including four to five aged around 12 to 14, he said.

Mr Zhang said his son was traumatised and had said little about the kiln since returning home. 'He used to be a talkative child and now he does not speak much and looks distracted. His lower torso and one of his legs are severely burnt and he has to limp around on crutches now.'

But Mr Zhang is considered lucky by other parents searching with him in Shanxi province. None of their children have been found yet despite the intense media attention.

Some parents were intimidated or beaten, said Chai Wei , the father of a missing child.