China abolished slavery in 1910, 103 years after Britain made trading in slaves illegal (the US abolished it in 1850). It’s been more than a century of the Chinese slavery abolition but unfortunately the (foreign -and also Chinese-) media is still releasing news on this issue.
Two days ago the New York Times’ Chinese Real Time blog released a new case of slavery in China. Police in central China’s Henan province said they have rescued 30 mentally handicapped people who had been enslaved at illegal brick kilns, in the latest case of slavery in China, a problem that continues in the country despite government pledges to eradicate it. The day after the TIME magazine stressed again the topic: ‘Some of the men had been forced to work for years without pay, enduring beatings and poor food and living conditions’. The news came to light not by Western media but by Chinese’s. The state-run China Daily was the first one to report the scandal that is being spread on the net at a really fast pace.
Back in 2007: the scandal that shaked the world
In 2007, authorities rescued more than 500 people from illegal brick kilns and coal mines. Many of them maimed, burned and mentally scarred – were rescued from Chinese brick factories in an investigation into illegal labour camps. The victims, including children as young as 14, were reportedly abducted or tricked into labouring at the kilns, where they toiled for 16 to 20 hours a day for no pay and barely enough food to live.
About 45,000 police had fanned out across Henan and nearby Shanxi provinces in search of the enslaved workers, many of them young people who had left their hometowns in search of work.
Again in 2009, 2010, and 2011
In May 2009, police in Anhui province arrested ten men for allegedly enslaving more than 30 mentally handicapped people who had been forced to work at brick kilns. In a separate case last year, a man in the central province of Sichuan was arrested after police said he set up a fake shelter for those with mental disabilities only then to sell at least 70 people to factories across the country. Authorities in remote Xinjiang province rescued a group of mentally ill men at the end of 2010. The men had been sold by a shelter operator and forced to work in a factory. In January 2011, three more people were detained in the case, according to official news reports.
Los Angeles Times reports how Zhang Wei, Director of Enable Disability Studies Institute, a nongovernmental organization, reels off a list of more than a dozen cases over the last decade in which people were enslaved in appalling conditions, each more nightmarish than the last.
Traditional family clans and mafia-like organizations have a lot to say on the slavery in the rural China, where police have little power relative to local business magnates. ‘The government itself cannot solve the problem of modern slavery,’ stated last November 2010 Luis CdeBaca, senior advisor to the U.S. State Department. ‘Instead, you have to have civil society working with government; the two working together to harness the power in a way that the victims find themselves in a better place.’
Chinese slavery, also in Africa?
‘A Chinese supervisor said to me in broken English, “In China, 5,000 people die, and there is nothing. In Zambia, 50 people die and everyone is weeping.” To them, 50 people are nothing.’ Those are comments brought by Peter Hitchens, UK’s Daily Mail correspondant, who has been looking into rumors of slave-like working conditions in two neighboring African countries, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
According to Hitchens: ‘Many perish as their primitive mines collapse on them, or are horribly injured without hope of medical treatment. Many are little more than children. On a good day they may earn $3, which just supports a meagre existence in diseased, malarial slums.’
For further information:
Combing the Brickyards for the Disappeared
Another Slavery Scandal Uncovered in Central China
Survivors tell horror stories in Chinese slave factories