The Guangdong government has vowed to launch a province-wide investigation to end child labor after local newspapers reported that more than 1,000 children from Liangshan, Sichuan province, were working at factories of Dongguan.
The emergency management office of the Guangdong government yesterday said that every factory in the province must be checked to see if they are using child labor.
Illegal job intermediaries, which brought the children to Guangdong, will also face tough punishment.
Investigations by local authorities showed previous media reports might be exaggerated.
The Southern Metropolis Daily reported on Tuesday that over 1,000 children from Liangshan, a poor region in Sichuan, were lured or abducted to work in Dongguan and some of them were even physically and sexually abused.
The Dongguan government immediately launched a two-day investigation on 3,629 enterprises.
But no child labor was found in the four factories named by the newspaper.
By Wednesday, 85 workers from Liangshan were found. Among 26 workers who looked like children, only one acknowledged he was 15, while the identities of the others could not be determined immediately because they did not carry any IDs.
None among the 85 said they were forced or "sold".
The Dongguan government also said the Southern Metropolis Daily report that some girls suffered sexual harassment was being investigated.
Dongguan police said they had got a tip-off about a gang of illegal job intermediaries headed by Wulei Ahuo and had sent an investigation team to Liangshan to find the suspects.
The Liangshan government has identified four people from its Zhaojue county suspected of acting as illegal job intermediaries, and the counties of Zhaojue and Meigu have launched investigations on them.
A child worker rescue team with more than 20 officials from Liangshan arrived in Dongguan on Wednesday to assist the investigation and "persuade" the children to go home.
Peng Jianfeng, professor of labor and human resources with the Renmin University of China in Beijing, said the nature of labor-intensive manufacturing drives factory owners to save costs through illegal employment, in addition to ineffective supervision of the township-level government.
Peng said Dongguan needs to upgrade its industry structure while hinting that interests of local townships may hinder the upgrading.
According to the city's labor bureau, some enterprises prefer to hire temporary workers, most of whom are poorly educated and can't find jobs elsewhere. Most factories do not register these workers on their employee lists or verify their age.