Underage workers are seen working at a factory in Dongguan, wearing green uniforms given by the factory to distinguish them from adult workers.
More than 200 child laborers were found in an electronics factory in Dongguan, one of the country’s largest manufacturing hubs for electronics and consumer goods, trying to earn extra money to cover school expenses, Guangzhou Daily reported on July 3 after conducting an investigative report.
Most of the children are from relatively impoverished rural areas in Hunan Province and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous region. The children jumped at the opportunity to earn a monthly salary ranging from RMB 1,000 ($161) to RMB 2,000 ($392) at Ganggu Electronics Factory in Dongkeng Town.
The children were led by a man named Chan, and were introduced to the factory through a person named Ah Min. Both of the men got a cut of the profits from the underage workers’ salary, the report said.
On June 22, a girl under the age of 15 named Xiao Jing was one of the more than 30 students who signed a contract with the factory, promising to work at least 280 hours per month. After giving the factory copies of their fake ID cards (saying they were over 16) and household registration, the youngsters were immediately put to work the next day.
The legal working age in China is 16.
Child laborers eating in the factory’s cafeteria.
A few days after starting work, Xiao Jing and 12 other youngsters were fired from the factory without any reason or payment. Most of the children are between 13 and 15 years-old.
Ah Min (pseudonym) said the three parties that include the teacher Chan, the agency and the factory all know the children are too young to work. Child laborers in the factory are given green work uniforms to distinguish them from adult workers, who normally wear blue overalls, according to one child laborer.
A child laborer lies on a bed in the factory’s employee dormitory.
However, the factory management denied they were aware these workers were children. They said they had a hard time verifying the work documents sent by the intermediary agency.
“They can tell these children are not 16 years-old just by one glance. The copies of their fake IDs and household registrations are just for show. No one will look into them. This is the unwritten rule,” Ah Min said.
In fact, sending child labor to well-off southern cities is less of a surprise for local residents in Pingnan County in Guangxi, where some of the children are from. Students in junior high often volunteer to work as child laborers in Guangdong to earn extra cash for school and help out with family expenses.
“Most of the people living in our county are very poor. There is no other way out. Many students work during summer vacations,” said Ah Wei (a pseudonym), uncle to one of the child laborers. “Every summer vacation, several hundred students go out to work. Most of them are younger than 16 years old,” he added.
The factory has paid the salaries for the 13 dismissed students, and promised to send the rest of the youngsters back to Hunan and Guangxi Province.
Although the payments were already given, the majority of the students wanted to stay and continue to work. Officials from the local human resources bureau and executives from the factory are working to persuade the students to go back home.
Most child labor stories involve forced labor, coercion and violence. But as Guangdong’s exports and economic growth slows, poverty-stricken children looking for ready cash fit right into the plans of factories that are currently trying anything to keep operational costs down.
Strictly speaking, hiring voluntary child laborers could be the easiest and cheapest solution.
Photos: Guangdong Daily