Chinese media report that thousands of police officers have rescued more than 450 peasant workers from forced labor conditions, including children as young as eight years old. The reports say workers were abducted or tricked into working at brick kilns and small iron and coal mines, forced to work long hours with no pay and little food, and beaten if they tried to escape. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.
Chinese media reported Friday that police freed the victims of forced labor over the course of the last month after mounting a massive inspection of thousands of brick kilns in China's northern Shanxi and central Henan provinces.
Chinese television showed workers crammed into filthy, small huts, where they slept on a brick floor and were locked in and guarded by fierce dogs to prevent them from escaping.
Workers were starved, given no pay, and forced to work over 14 hours a day touching hot bricks that burnt their skin. Those who tried to escape were beaten.
This freed peasant worker says there was no chance to escape. He says the moment workers tried to get away, their captors would coordinate over mobile phones to get them back.
The official Xinhua news agency says dozens of children were among those freed in Henan from the slave-like conditions. Many of them were kidnapped and sold to the kiln owners.
This kiln owner says he paid about $40 to $50 for a boy, but says he has no idea where he came from.
Another captive says laborers were lured by the promise of a high salary.
"When I asked them how much money each month, they said 1,000 yuan," he said.
Chinese media say overseers at one of the prison-like brickworks beat a man to death with a shovel for not working hard enough. A dozen other workers were reported to have died from mistreatment.
Police have arrested 120 suspects during a four-day crackdown but are still looking for three who escaped.
The slave labor case gained widespread attention after a group of 400 fathers in Henan posted a letter on the Internet saying their children had been kidnapped to work in illegal Shanxi brick kilns.
The men accused Shanxi police of turning a blind eye to forced labor in the province. One kiln owner was the son of a local Communist Party official, furthering cries of official neglect.
The police operation is still under way and Chinese media say there may be more than one thousand children still enslaved.