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China orders probe on forced slave labor { May 2007 }

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China orders nationwide probe on child labour
Wed Jun 20, 11:38 AM ET

BEIJING (AFP) - China on Wednesday ordered a nationwide probe targeting the use of forced and slave labour after hundreds of workers, some of them children, were rescued from brutally run brickyards in two provinces.

At a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, "it was decided that a mass inspection on labour conditions at the national level would be carried out as soon as possible," the government said in a statement on its website.

The inspection of small mines, brickyards and factories across the country would be aimed at "combatting criminal and illegal behaviour such as child labour, forced labour and the ill treatment of workers," the statement said.

The meeting -- which brought together officials from relevant ministries and police representatives -- was called after the revelation of a shocking brickyard slave trade that first made national headlines last week.

More than 500 workers, some of them children, have been rescued from brickyards in Shanxi and Henan provinces in recent days, while around 170 people have been arrested for their involvement in the trade.

Police and local government officials have also been implicated in the scandal.

After Wednesday's meeting, the government said it would "seriously investigate the problem of corruption and the failure of the officials responsible to fulfil their duties."

State press reports have said more than 1,000 people had probably been enslaved but human rights groups believe the problem is likely to be far bigger than officially acknowledged.

The revelations have caused outrage in China, with reports in the press showing filthy, starving workers suffering untreated injuries inflicted from beatings and overwork at the hands of their captors.

Workers said many of them tried to escape but most were caught and brought back. Vicious dogs were used to stop workers breaking out.

One brickyard supervisor confessed on camera to beating a man in his 50s to death for not working hard enough.

Earlier, state media reported that 13 job agencies at the main railway station in the city of Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, had been closed for tricking people into working as slaves.

The agencies were allegedly "deceiving rural workers and sending them to work as slaves in illegal brick kilns," Xinhua news agency reported, citing the city's railway chief.

"We will not allow any other job agency to open near the railway station in the future," Xian Railway Station director Meng Zhe was quoted as saying after the offending labour companies were closed on Tuesday.

The unsuspecting job hunters who were conned into slavery had been sent to neighbouring Shanxi province to the north.

Previous reports in the state-run press have recounted many incidents of slave traders targeting boys or vulnerable men as they sought work near train stations.

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