BEIJING – China is still freeing people — including children — forced to work as slaves in illegal brick factories, two months after the scandal involving the brick yards was exposed, officials said Monday.
The scandal erupted in early June after Chinese media reported that children as young as 8 were abducted or recruited from bus and train stations with false promises of well-paying jobs and sold to kilns for about $65.
The victims were forced to work almost around the clock, beaten, and deprived of pay, nourishment and basic medical care.
"Another 359 slave migrant workers have been rescued in Shanxi since late June, including 15 child workers and 121 mentally handicapped ones," said Xue Yanzhong, executive vice governor of Shanxi province, in a statement posted on the central government's official Web site.
The workers were found in 17 newly discovered brick kilns that abducted workers, imprisoned them and forced them to work, he said.
One of the worst areas for the illegal kilns was in Shanxi province, said Sun Baoshu, vice minister of labor and social security.
"Nearly 66 percent of the brick kilns in Shanxi were illegal," he said in a separate statement. But Sun said the kilns and slave workers have been found in other parts of China, and 1,340 migrant workers have been rescued nationwide so far.
Sun said 147 suspects who ran the 17 kilns had been arrested.
"Those criminals will be punished according to the law. Government officials who took part in the illegal business, used their power for profit and protected the gangs will be punished severely according to the law and Communist Party discipline," he said.
Dozens of people already have been jailed, and last month the foreman of a brick kiln in Shanxi where workers were beaten and forced to work 18-hour days was sentenced to life in jail. One of his subordinates was sentenced to death for the beating death of a laborer.