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  • Written by  Eins Yu

Forced Labor in China

forced labor in China
Photo: imgarcade

China, boasting as the “workshop of the world”, has a large population of labor force. Though China promises to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, the problem of forced labor shows no sign of abating. Vulnerable people, like mentally-handicapped people, prisoners, minorities, children and women easily fall victims of forced labor.

Mentally-handicapped people

A forced-labor scandal made headlines in 2013. Four were found guilty of forcing nine mentally-handicapped people to overwork in a brick kilns in Southwestern China. The noticeable factor is that most of the compulsory labor incident of mentally-handicapped people happens in brick kilns, normally called “black brick kilns”. The work in brick kilns is heavily physical yet mechanically. Most black brick kilns are located in remote areas so that they can easily avoid the investigation of government. Mentally-handicapped people are treated as slaves there-scanty food, long work time(up to 18hrs a day), lack of safety in workplace and no salary.

Child laborer

In 2014, a 15-year-old worker in a factory which is one of Apple Suppliers in Shanghai died of Pneumonia and the responsible person of the factory denied that the death of the boy had anything to do with the factory which sparked outrage in the public. The exploitation of workers under the age of 16 is also an increasingly worsening problem in China. China has implemented the 9 year compulsory education since the late 1980s, however in remote areas, a great number of children are deprived of education and forced to work with half or even less salary. A large part of child laborers are from the “left-behind children” whose parents are migrant workers in the cities without enough time to look after them. The left-behind children often live with their old grandparents or even by themselves. They can not protect themselves well.

Forced labor camp

In 2012, a mother of a young rape victim who sued a local authority was put into a forced labor camp for one and a half year. This is the infamous “Tanghui case”. China’s forced labor camp has long been criticized by the international community. China established the "re-education through labour" system in the 1950s and the forced labor camp is the product of the controversial system, which enables police and other agencies to force inmates for up to four years to work without wages. The forced labor camp has become a gray zone. From this perspective, we can see the government itself plays a negative role in protecting the workers’ rights. Under the pressure, China has pledged to reform its forced labor camp in 2013 after Xi Jinping came to power. The results are remained to be seen.

The underlying cause of the penetrating forced labor problem in China is that there is a “neutral gear” of law enforcement and judicial practice against forced labor. China doesn’t have a systematic law against the forced labor, so lots of criminals use the loophole to gain interests. Besides, the penalty for forced labor criminal is not stiff enough -- the offender only faces a sentence up to seven years. The lack of legal knowledge among the vulnerable groups and the ignorance of public together are worsening the problem.

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