Wen Jiabao

Hunt for 400 children feared held as slaves

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2007, 12:00am

Police in Shanxi province have vowed to help search for 400 children who have gone missing and are feared to be working as slaves in brick kilns, days after parents appealed to the central government for help.

Premier Wen Jiabao has ordered a thorough investigation into the allegation by parents of the missing children that despite the nationwide crackdown on enslavement in the wake of the Shanxi scandal, a lot of children have yet to be rescued, China News Service said yesterday.

The parents launched their second public appeal in a letter, published by the Chongqing Morning Post on Thursday and carried by mainland news websites, urging officials to take immediate action.

'The online appeals by some netizens for help to look for their missing relatives have caught attention of top leaders and the Communist Party committee and provincial government of Shanxi, with Mr Wen and other State Council leaders ordering a swift and thorough investigation,' the report said.

The shocking revelations of slave labour in brick kilns in Shanxi and Henan emerged after the first appeal by the parents last month.

Reports of the slave trade, rampant in the two provinces and in some cases for over a decade, have sparked a public outcry and forced a widespread crackdown.

Police in the two provinces have raided more than 8,000 kilns and small coal mines and freed 591 workers, including at least 51 children. In Shanxi, 359 migrant labourers were rescued, 65 of whom were mentally retarded, Xinhua said.

However, despite Beijing's order for prompt arrests and an early conclusion of the cases, hundreds of children, feared to have been hidden by some kiln owners, are still missing, according to the parents, who have been searching for weeks.

Shanxi Governor Yu Youjun, who has publicly apologised for his government's failure to stamp out the slave trade, has ordered local police to provide help to the parents of the 400 missing children and to enlist public support in the search.

'Public security departments at all levels must act immediately. No lead should be ignored, no corner should be left untouched and no one should be left behind [in the rescue efforts],' CNS quoted him as saying.

Police were ordered to monitor the internet for postings by parents and relatives of missing children and report back to families on the results of their investigations, it said.

Thirty-five people have been detained on criminal charges over the slavery scandal while police are hunting for a further 20.

Meanwhile, Linfen city government has banned officials from making overseas trips this year amid outrage over local authorities' handling of the scandal, Xinhua reported.