Factory caught using child labor

Updated: 2012-02-14 08:46

By Zhou Wenting (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - After an online tip, an inspection of an electronics factory in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, found more than 10 child laborers working there, a labor supervision official said on Monday.

"Officials from the district government and our division have gone to the plant for investigation and evidence collection today," said the man, surnamed Zhou.

The official inspection of Suzhou Nousstar Electronic Technology Co in the city's Wuzhong district was triggered after an Internet user named Quanquantian uploaded a post and a video clip to an online forum on Saturday. The clip showed a dozen boys and girls around 1.5 meters in height working on an assembly line.

As seen from the video on Tudou.com, some of the workers were so young and they had to prop themselves up on benches because they were too short, and one boy claimed to be a recent primary school graduate.

Another official from the district bureau of human resources and social security, surnamed Yang, also confirmed that there are children working at the factory. "But no child is as young as 9, as previously reported in the media," he said.

Officials declined to reveal the exact number of children involved and how long they had been in the factory. Labor supervision officials were unavailable for further comment at press time.

The Internet user said in the post that these children are members of ethnic groups and were led there by a fellow villager, who forwards the children's monthly income from the company to their families. They work nearly 12 hours every day, he said.

A foreman of the company told Suzhou Television Station that "people of the Yi ethnic group from at least four counties are here in the plant".

A security guard at the staff accommodation area of the factory told Modern Express, a Jiangsu-based newspaper, that quite a few boys and girls live in the apartments.

They have a fixed work schedule every day. They get up at 6 am and get off work at midnight in droves, he said.

"Life is tough for them. I often see them go to hot water dispensers to cook instant noodles, which they eat in a hurry as they are walking home," he added.

Legal experts said labor departments should hand out a stiff punishment to the business, which knowingly violated laws.

According to Provisions on the Prohibition of Using Child Labor, a minimum fine of 5,000 yuan ($795) will be imposed on businesses for each worker younger than 16 years old they have employed for at least a month, and individuals or agencies that introduce minors to jobs will be penalized in the same way.

Juvenile rights experts urged the legislation of new child welfare laws to regulate the behavior of guardians and ensure a safe and healthy environment for childhood development.

"The government should offer guidance and assistance when a family can't provide a child with a healthy environment, and official intervention should be adopted when the guidance and help fall short," said Zhang Wenjuan, deputy director of the Beijing Children's Legal Aid and Research Center.

She said the country could establish an integrated investigation mechanism for any child who leaves school to be a manual laborer, a child beggar or just homeless. Such a system might include teacher reports, investigations from authorities and follow-up tracking.

Yi Shenghua at Beijing's Ying Ke Law Firm said more consideration must be given to how the children will be living after being sent back home.

"A home should be warm and provide protection and opportunities for children to get educated," he said.