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China frees disabled workers in new slave scandal

07 september 2011, 17:45
A brick factory. ©RIA Novosti
A brick factory. ©RIA Novosti
Authorities in central China said Wednesday they had rescued 30 workers with severe learning difficulties used as slaves in illegal brick factories, in the nation's latest case of labour abuse, AFP reports.

State media reported that some of the victims, who were also regularly beaten, had toiled for more than seven years without pay in Henan province -- already the scene of a huge slavery scandal in 2007.

"These 30 people are mentally disabled, and were taken from their home town and tricked into working," a spokesman for the provincial police, surnamed Zhang, told AFP.

He said authorities freed them on Sunday and were in the process of locating their families. But he added that some of the victims' disabilities were so severe they were not able to identify them.

"In that case, they are being sheltered by the departments that rescued them," he said.

The official China Daily newspaper, quoting a television channel that exposed the scandal, said the victims were mostly abducted and sold to factory bosses for 300 to 500 yuan ($47 to $78).

A police officer quoted by state media said that one factory supervisor accused of whipping the workers was just 14 years old.

Zhang said police had so far detained eight brick kiln bosses and recruiters.

It is not the first time that slave labour has been uncovered in Henan.

In a scandal that shocked the nation in 2007, thousands of people were found to be working without pay in brick factories in Henan and further north in Shanxi province.

They had been subjected to regular beatings and near-starvation, with the alleged collusion of some local officials and police.

Although no official numbers have been reported on how many were enslaved, a parliamentary investigation said some 53,000 migrant workers had been employed in more than 2,000 illegal brick factories in Shanxi alone.

Since then, similar cases of slavery have been reported sporadically around China, despite government pledges to eradicate the practice.

In December last year, authorities shut down a factory in the northwestern region of Xinjiang where 11 workers -- most of them suffering from learning difficulties -- were reportedly enslaved for years in deplorable conditions.

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