Suzhou child labour case seems to follow familiar pattern

Local government officials confirmed today that around a dozen children under the legal working age of 16 had been employed at an electronics factory in the eastern city of Suzhou, the China Daily reported.

Officials investigated the factory after an online video purported to show children as young as nine-years-old working in harsh conditions on the factory’s production line for up to 12 hours a day.

Local television reported that the children were members of the Yi minority group. If true, it would be the third time in less than four years that the media has exposed child labour trafficking from the poor mountainous regions of southwest China inhabited by the Yi.

In March 2008, the Southern Metropolis Daily exposed a child labour trafficking ring that brought teenagers from the remote Liangshan region of Sichuan and sold them to factories across the Pearl River Delta. Three years later the same media group reported on 21 adolescents who had been trafficked from Liangshan and sold to an electronics factory in Shenzhen’s Longgang district. Now, a similar-sized group has been uncovered in another electronics factory in Suzhou.

In all three cases, local labour officials were oblivious to the use of child labour in their districts until it was brought to their attention by the media. And the usual response of the authorities once such abuses have been uncovered has been to simply round the children up and send them back home, with no follow up investigation to prevent them from being trafficked again.

Now at least, more commentators in the official Chinese media are pointing out the need to tackle the child labour problem at its source by ensuring that children in poor rural areas have a supportive family environment and a decent education.

Zhang Wenjuan, deputy director of the Beijing Children's Legal Aid and Research Centre, told the China Daily that 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.”
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