Fears linger over child slaves at kilns
Josephine Ma in Beijing
There have been more arrests, and the Shanxi governor has issued a public apology over the brick kiln slavery scandal. But there are growing concerns that children are still being enslaved in kilns yet to come under media scrutiny.
Shanxi governor Yu Youjun admitted forced labour was rampant and dereliction of duty by government officials was responsible for the rise in slavery at the kilns.
'For a long time, relevant government departments did little to regulate rural workshops, small coal mines and small factories, and they are basically out of control and are not being supervised,' Mr Yu said.
'The dereliction of duty by civil servants and the corruption of individuals have made it possible for illegal labour to exist, particularly the abductions of migrant workers, and forced labour of children and mentally disabled people.'
Following a self-criticism to the State Council, Mr Yu issued a public apology in Taiyuan yesterday.
'As a provincial governor, I cannot shirk responsibilities, and I feel heart-stricken,' he said. 'I hereby apologise to the injured rural migrant worker brothers and their families as well as to all Shanxi people on behalf of the provincial government.'
Mr Yu said 35 people had been detained on criminal charges and 359 migrant workers rescued, 65 of whom were mentally retarded.
Twelve children had been found among the rescued workers, and the ages of nine others were to be confirmed, he said.
In the investigation of 3,347 kilns, the illegal use of labour was widespread, he said.
The authorities also announced the arrest of two officials from the Yongji district labour inspection team on charges of dereliction of duty and abuse of power for 'reselling' a released child worker to another kiln.
Xinhua said the pair sold a 17-year-old abducted worker to another kiln after he was released.
They are the only officials arrested so far despite repeated pledges by the government to punish officials involved.
Deputy Labour Minister Sun Baoshu said a village party boss and a chief from Xiangfen village were also warned. The party secretary of Caosheng village, whose son owned a notorious kiln, was expelled from the party.
Mainland reports said parents had been contacted by their abducted sons, who told them they would be released on payment of a ransom.
China Daily said a family surnamed Yuan said their son told them the kiln boss was demanding 35,000 yuan for his release.
Parents who went to Shanxi to look for their missing children believed the operators were tipped off and hid the children.
A Southern Weekend report said child labour remained common in kilns in Tonghua township in Yuncheng , Shanxi - another black spot for kiln slavery.
The report said that during a recent trip more than 20 child workers could be seen in 60 kilns in Liumu village in Tonghua. A supervisor told the reporter the children were from Yunnan province .
But the children could not be found the next day, and local officials said they did not find any child labourers when they raided the kilns, the report said.
The report queried whether a one-off central government and media crackdown was enough to root out the illicit operations.