Child labor must be rooted out: Experts

By Guan Xiaofeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-02-08 07:17

Unionists and legal experts are urging stronger efforts to stem the remnants of child labor and prevent a recurrence.

They acknowledge that great progress has been made but call for a multi-pronged approach to root out the criminal phenomenon.

"The problem still exists although the number of child laborers has been on the decline thanks to strict regulations and crackdowns," said Lu Shizhen, vice-president of the China Youth University of Political Sciences.

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China had about 2-3 million child laborers (under 16 years old) by the end of the 1990s. There is no official figure on how many there are now.

Han Jie, deputy secretary-general of Beijing-based China Enterprise Reform and Development Society, said children are still being made to work in some manufacturing companies, especially in the south.

However, Han also a leader of the Chinese Association of Corporate Social Accountability said that since 1995, more and more Chinese enterprises have learned to stay away from child labor because of pressure from the government.

Explaining the earlier situation, Lu said: "It was once among the main social problems arising out of the reform and opening-up in the late 1970s. Most victims were employed by small private workshops."

But market competition has helped phase out many of the small firms competing on cheap labor alone. Only a small number have managed to stay in business, she said.

"Child workers live in deplorable conditions," she noted. "They cannot receive education like other children and suffer immense hardship both physically and mentally." Many of them will be stuck with low incomes all their lives and some will be forced to turn to criminal gangs, she added.

In many cities, police have cracked down on cases in which children, especially girls, were used by adult employers to sell flowers.

According to the Provisions on the Prohibition of Using Child Labor issued in 1992, employers can be fined 5,000 yuan ($640) per month for each child worker hired but Lu said that government efforts are "still inadequate".

Hang Yuan, spokeswoman for the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, also acknowledged the problem. "Employers face jail terms of up to seven years according to the Chinese criminal law," she pointed out, adding that trade unions at all levels will spare no efforts to save the victims whenever they find them.

The unionist cited the example in which the trade unions' federation in Shenyang, a city in Northeast China, rescued seven child laborers from a private garment factory last August.

The seven children, aged 13-15, had been coaxed three months earlier from a poor village in Central China's Henan Province to work in the shabby plant for as much as 16 hours each day for a daily wage of only 10 yuan ($1.25).

(China Daily 02/08/2007 page1)

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