Child death toll rises after blast
Guangxi health officials have admitted the number of children killed in an illegal fireworks factory explosion last month was more than first announced, but they would not reveal how many have died, fearing the public' reaction.
A senior staff member at the Hezhou Health Bureau told the South China Morning Post that more dead children had been reported in addition to the two children found at the scene on November 12.
Twelve people - 11 children and one adult - were admitted to hospital in Guilin and Nanning after the explosion, and nine were reported to be in a serious condition. No further public statement has been made since the one immediately after the explosion.
'We should focus more on positive propaganda because the increasing death toll would make the public dissatisfied,' said the official, who gave only his surname, Luo.
The children were aged seven to 14 and recruited by the unlicensed factory to insert fuses in firecrackers for wages of 30 fen (HK$0.34) an hour. Children said they worked there to earn money for snacks and school supplies.
Three owners of the factory were arrested or turned themselves in after the accident, state media said.
The accident became a major national talking point, not just due to the work safety issues but also the plight of children in rural areas. Many are left with elderly relatives while their parents go to work in big cities.
According to reports by state media, there are about 58 million 'children left in the countryside', more than 40 million of them under the age of 14.
All of the children caught in the explosion were from Zhichang Primary School in the village of Yanghui.
Headmistress Chen Xiaojie said child labour was not a major issue in the village as there were few jobs on offer. However, she said the school had warned about the dangers of working in the firecracker factory.
'The owners were from the same village and their small workshop was in a house a few hundred metres from the children's,' Chen said. 'It was easy to find children to work for them.'
Chen said the parents of nearly two-thirds of her 300 pupils worked in Guangdong or other coastal areas, leaving them with their grandparents. Only about 1,000 of the village's 3,000 residents lived there permanently, with few people aged between 30 and 50, she added.
Chen said she and her 13 colleagues had to work extra hard to take care of the children as they lacked parental guidance. 'Sometimes we need to remind them to bring an umbrella on rainy days or to wash their hands before meals. To these children, we are dads, mums, and teachers at the same time,' she said.
The problem would get worse if the government did not act, she said.