Every now and then, there is news reminding everybody that, though China has risen to the second largest economy in the world, it’s still a developing country. A story below about child labor is but one example.
China is one the world’s worst country for child labor. So when 41 child workers in their early teens were “rescued” earlier last month from an electronics manufacturer in the southern city of Shenzhen, not many was surprised.
Most of these school-age kids are girls, with a couple of boys. They are mostly from Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in the inland province of Sichuan, one of the poorest areas in China. Thousands of miles away from home, they worked 12 hours a day for some RMB 2000 yuan per month.
When journalists interviewed them back in their homes in the mountain, one of the girls told:
“I didn’t want to go back home. In the factory, I was given rice and meat for meals. Back home, the only things we have are potatoes and corns.”
Apparently, in the eyes of many of these child workers, they were not “rescued”. They were sent back to lack of nutrition and possible starvation. And that’s no exaggeration.
At the same time when the child labor news broke, pictures of kids having only potatoes for food every day from the same Liangshan County went viral online. It’s reported that these kids would simply pick up one or two potatoes from a basket when hungry during the day. The only difference is that it’d be warm potatoes in the summer and cold potatoes in the winter.
Most of the local households make only RMB 2000-3000 per year. Since it is a minority autonomous county, most families have 2-3 kids, but not many can afford to send all to school.
In fact, most parents believe that to work as child labor is a better option than school. Compared with enduring impoverishment at home, it’s better for their kids to leave the mountains and work outside – after all, meals with meat are far better than potatoes every day.
Even more heart-wrenching is that it is the same Liangshan County where a team of government officials were exposed to have spent more than RMB 15,000 yuan on a lavish “work dinner” in a single night, including some 8000 yuan on wines and cigarettes.
Nothing better summarizes the story than famous Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu’s verse “Wine and meat go to waste behind the vermilion gates of the rich while the poor freeze to death along the road.”