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Child Slave Labor in China

by Megan Grau
May 2005

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that of the 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries, 61 percent are in Asia. Although we live in an extremely modern age, there is, in fact, child slave labor present in China. Some of these children work in sweatshops. A sweatshop is a workplace where workers are subjected to extreme exploitation, including the lack of a living wages or benefits, poor and dangerous working conditions, and harsh and unnecessary discipline, such as verbal and physical abuse. Sweatshop workers are paid less than their daily expenses, thus they are never able to save any money to invest in their futures. They are trapped in a never-ending cycle (Embar, pars. 2-5).

The exact number of child labors working in China is still unknown. China's repressive political system does not allow this information acquired directly from China, there are no Chinese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in this area, and foreign NGOs do not have access. Therefore, it is impossible to judge how strictly the Chinese Government enforces child labor laws or to determine the efforts of non-governmental organizations to address child labor in China (China, par.1).

Most China-watchers conclude that child labor is increasing, particularly in areas around Hong Kong. This deduction is based on a high dropout rate from school and the hasty expansion of foreign investment in export-oriented enterprises. There is indeed increasing evidence that school children are part of the required workforce. Also, an official from the Chinese Ministry of Labor confessed that the employment of children was extremely serious in China. Although no specific Chinese industry is identifiable as a significant violator of child labor regulations, they involve a range of export industries including garments and textiles, fireworks, and toys (China, pars. 2-3).

The Chinese Ministry of Labor admitted that the child labor situation was very serious throughout the country. It stated that exploiting child laborers has become a common occurrence. In some coastal areas and particular economic zones, such as Fujian and Guangdong, as well as Zhejiang, Sichuan, and Hubei, there are reported to be approximately four to five million-child laborers under the age of 16. Child laborers under 12 years of age are also found in Whenzhou and in some areas of Guangdong and Hainan. The children usually work 10 to 14 hours a day with half the wages of an adult.

Much of the proof that child labor exists in China is taken from data from the large economic zone of Shenzhen. Children between the ages of 10 to 16 are working up to 14 hours a day in factories in Shenzhen. It was also recorded that girls work in awful conditions for 13 to 14 hours a day from 7 a.m.- 10 p.m. with two one-hour breaks. The China Youth News said that 44 of the 206 foreign-owned companies or joint ventures in Shenzhen employ children less than 16 years of age (China, pars. 4-5).

The United States imports of pyrotechnics and explosives from China is approaching $1 billion. Children are working in the fireworks industry. A recent report described an explosion at a fireworks factory in Hebei that killed one child and injured 34 schoolgirls ranging from 11 to 13 years of age. Investigators found that the school children had been forced by their teachers to work for slave wages making firecrackers. The children were promised 20 fen, 2 cents, for making one long braid of firecrackers, but in reality were paid three fen, 0.3 cents. In March 2001, 42 people, most of them third and fourth-graders, were killed in an explosion at a school. The school blow up because the Chinese use young students to make fireworks in order to keep the price lower than their competitors. The younger students are required to assemble at least 1,000 fireworks a day while the older children, fifth-graders, are required to make ten times that many (Farah).

Newspaper and journal reports indicate that children are also working in the garment and textile industries of China. Imports of apparel and textiles from China to the U.S. market are reaching beyond $4.5 billion each year. It was reported that China's number one textile firm at Qingpu employs children aged 12 to 15 years old that recruited were from the neighboring province of Anhui. In Chungsan City, a foreign textile enterprise employed about 160 child laborers and a 14 year old was killed after her hair became tangled in her machine. Journalists also found 12 year-old children sleeping two to three in a bed in dorms and working 15 hours a day for $10 per month (Lindsay).

The International Child Labor Study staff also received numerous claims of the use of child labor in toy, sporting equipment, and game factories. The United States imports approximately $4 billion worth of toys, games, and sporting goods from China every year. A Business Week article reported that, in order to meet the holiday demand for toys, girls at a plant were ordered to work one or two 24-hour shifts each month. The average North American toy maker earns $11 an hour. In China, toy workers earn an average of 30 cents an hour.

The enforcement of child labor laws is sometimes made difficult by counterfeit identification cards. Southeastern China workers reported the use of counterfeit IDs is fairly common. Some workers admitted that they were three or four years younger than the 16 years certified on their ID cards.

The International Labor Organization reports that compulsory education in China is required up to age 16, yet children are reported to be dropping out of school at increasing rates. According to the U.S. State Department, Chinese press reports indicate that dropout rates for lower secondary schools (ages 12 to 15) exceed nine percent in several southern provinces, whereas the national average is 2.2 percent. An increasing group of children leaving school below the legal work age suggests the possibility of a growing child labor problem (China, pars. 10-12).

Slave labor exists in our world today. It is not some far off problem that the people of America can do nothing about. Americans must education themselves on the issue and learn how to make a difference. These children are in need of help.

Available online at http://ihscslnews.org/

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