China said Wednesday that it had broken up a child-labor ring that provided children from poor inland areas to work in booming coastal cities...
SHANGHAI, China — China said Wednesday that it had broken up a child-labor ring that provided children from poor inland areas to work in booming coastal cities, acknowledging that severe labor abuses extended into the heart of its export economy.
Authorities in southern Guangdong province, near Hong Kong, said they had made several arrests and had already “rescued” more than 100 children from factories in the city of Dongguan, one of the country’s largest manufacturing centers for electronics and consumer goods sold around the world. The officials said they were investigating reports that hundreds of other rural children had been lured or forced into captive, almost slavelike conditions for minimal pay.
The children, mostly between the ages of 13 and 15, were often tricked or kidnapped by employment agencies in an impoverished part of western Sichuan province called Liangshan and then sent to factory towns in Guangdong, where they were sometimes forced to work 300 hours a month for little money, according to government officials and accounts from the state-owned media. The legal working age in China is 16.
The labor scandal is the latest embarrassment for China as it prepares to host the Olympic Games this summer. For much of the past year, the country has been plagued by damaging reports about severe pollution, dangerous exports, riots in Tibet and disruptions to its Olympic torch relay.
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The abuses may also reflect the combined pressures of worker shortages, high inflation and a rising currency that have reduced profit margins of some Chinese factories and forced them to scramble for an edge — even an illegal one — to stay competitive.
The child labor ring, which was first uncovered by Southern Metropolis, a crusading newspaper based in Guangzhou, came less than a year after China was rocked by exposure of a similar problem in a less-developed part of central China. Last June, labor officials in Shanxi and Henan provinces said they had rescued hundreds of people, including children, from slave labor conditions in rural brick kilns. Many of those workers said they had been kidnapped.
The crackdown also took place in Shenzhen, another big manufacturing center. Officials did not name the specific factories or products involved, and it is unclear whether any of them were suppliers to global corporations. But many companies in Dongguan and Shenzhen, where land and labor costs are typically higher than elsewhere in the country, are part of the supply chain for the country’s export manufacturers. The authorities have also said little so far about the identities of the children they claim to have rescued.
Southern Metropolis said the children from Liangshan earned as little as about 30 cents an hour and were forced to work long hours.
The Guangzhou Daily described tagging along with police in Dongguan Tuesday as they questioned young factory workers. One girl named Luo Siqi from Liangshan said she made 50 cents an hour and initially claimed she had come to Dongguan on her own.
When told by police that the money she thought she was sending home could not have reached her family, she broke down in tears, the paper said.
“My father and mother sold me. I don’t want to go back,” Luo was quoted as saying.
Additional material from The Associated Press.