China police rescue 248 people from slavery in brick kilns

By Xinhua

Zhengzhou : Chinese police have rescued 248 people who had been forced to work as 'slaves' in brick kilns, while widespread crackdown is underway.

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    Police in central Henan Province have rescued 217 people, including 29 children, and detained 120 suspects after a 4-day crackdown campaign involving more than 35,000 police to check 7,500 kilns in the province.

    In the area around Xinxiang, north of Zhengzhou, police raided 20 brick kilns on Saturday and rescued 23 people including 16 children.

    Laborers had been enticed or kidnapped and transported to the kilns by human traffickers. Upon arrival they were beaten, starved and forced to work long hours without pay.

    In the past two weeks, Chinese media have exposed the plight of children held captive in brick kilns in neighboring Shanxi Province and photos of distraught parents have appeared in the press.

    It is reported that 400 Henan fathers have went to the remote mountains in Shanxi to track down missing sons who they believe were sold to kilns.

    Qin Yuhai, vice governor and police chief of Henan, said "we must do everything we can to fight human trafficking and rescue those being held captive."

    In north China's Shanxi Province, police have rescued 31 people who were forced to work under extremely cruel conditions in brick kilns and detained five suspects.

    Wang Bingbing, owner of an illegal brick kiln, and four accomplices, were detained after police found they had forced 32 people who had been abducted or lured from railways stations of Henan and Shanxi.

    Nine of the 32 were mentally disabled. One worker, born as mentally handicapped, was beaten to death last November, local police said.

    Guarded by taskmaster and dogs, they were forced to work 15 to 16 hours per day, and finish their meals of steamed bread and water within 15 minutes. The workers sleep on the ground in a darkroom without heating system in freezing winter.

    Police are still hunting for another suspect from Henan.

    The kiln was based in Caosheng Village of Hongtong County. Wang was the son of a village head, according to Wang Xingwang, deputy chairman with the provincial workers' union.

    The kiln's bank accounts have been frozen.

    Yang Aizhi, a 46-year-old mother, was one of the people who alerted the public to the scandal.

    Her 16-year-old son went missing on March 8 and she has been searching for him ever since. On her travels she heard that the child might have been kidnapped and forced to work at kilns in Shanxi.

    Yang went to more than 100 kilns in Shanxi and discovered that "most kilns were forcing children to do hard labor," she was quoted as saying in the Southern Weekly. Some children were still wearing their school uniforms.

    When the children were too tired to push carts, they were whipped by taskmasters, said Yang.

    Yang tried to rescue some of the children but was threatened by kiln owners. She has yet to find her son.

    Yang and other parents who suspect their children have been kidnapped and forced to work in illegal kilns told their story to a TV station in Zhengzhou in early May.

    Zhang Wenlong was one of the 31 people rescued from the kiln in Caosheng village. Zhang, 17, called the kiln he had worked at as "prison".

    Zhang says he was abducted in March from the Zhengzhou Railway Station and worked at a kiln for three months until he burned his hand on bricks that had not yet cooled.

    Zhang was watched by thugs and six ferocious dogs, making it impossible to escape.

    His taskmaster refused him hospital treatment but provided medicines that had expired.

    The county government has allocated 200,000 yuan (about 26,300 U.S. dollars) to provide a salary to the victims.

    Nine of the rescued have returned home and government officials are accompanying 15 others to their homes. Seven of the people who were rescued have disappeared as police believe they may have been so traumatized they simply fled.

    The crackdown campaign was launched in 11 cities of Shanxi. There have been raids on coal mines, brick kilns, private contractors and small-sized enterprises after media reports revealed that hundreds of children in Henan Province had been kidnapped and forced to work in kilns in Shanxi.

    The crackdown is still underway in case more people are suffering in kilns and other illegal workplaces.