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Child Labor Laws 'Must Be Enforced'

Legal experts are urging stronger law enforcement to eradicate child labor.

Recent scandals involving forced child labor have been reported in the media.

The latest involved hundreds of underage workers abducted to work at brick kilns in Shanxi and Henan provinces.

"The police are quite negligent in their investigations their conclusions are quite irresponsible," Chen Wei, a lawyer in charge of a child labor case in the scandals, said yesterday.

The number of minors (under 16) engaged in labor was estimated to be about 2-3 million by the end of the 1990s. No official figure for the present is available.

Loopholes in law enforcement are the major reason for the recurrence of child labor, Tong Lihua, director of the minor protection law committee of the All China Lawyer's Association, said.

However, he stressed that China has a developed legal system in cracking down on child labor.

Relevant laws stipulate that companies using child labor for a month can be fined between 5,000 and 10,000 yuan (US$650-1,300). Their licenses could be withdrawn, and they could face up to seven years in prison.

"But local law enforcement staff are quite lenient with rule breakers, and most cases end up with a light fine," Tong said.

The staff and police allegedly also impose a lot of red tape and some receive bribes to cover up child labor crimes.

China has already seen a decline in the number of child laborers due to strict regulations and crackdowns, Lu Shizhen, expert with the China Youth University of Political Sciences, said.

Most victims are employed by small private workshops. But market competition has helped phase out many of the small firms competing with cheap labor, she said.

However, she said the child labor problem remains complicated given the social circumstances - an imperfect compulsory education system and emigration of rural residents to the urban areas.

Many rural children give up schooling due to poverty or fear of a bleak future, Tong said.

A survey last year by the minor protection center in Zhejiang found 98 percent of child labor stemmed from poor families. Most families had more than one child and most children do not finish their compulsory nine-year education.

"Between dropping out of school and becoming eligible workers at 16, most children do not receive sufficient supervision," Tong said.

He said the compulsory education system should be strengthened to cover all school-age children. A network should also be established to help and educate stray children.

(China Daily July 6, 2007)

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