[JURIST] Two Chinese labor officials were arrested Friday after allegations broke that they failed to report the enslavement of hundreds of people, which included not only adults, but also children and the mentally retarded. A total of 359 people, with at least 12 children, were forced to work up to 20 hours a day without pay at various Chinese brick kilns in the Shanxi and Henan provinces in central China [JURIST news archive]. Hou Junyuan, the head of the local labor inspection team, was arrested for dereliction of duty, while one of his officers was arrested on charges of abuse of power. China's official Xinhua News Agency [media website] said that the two forced a child laborer, who had been released from one kiln and was on his way back home, to go to a new kiln where he was forced into slave labor again [Xinhua report].
More charges may be brought against other government officials. Xinhua said one father who went looking for his son was told by a local police officer that he could take his own son home if he found him, but "otherwise, keep your nose out of this" [Xinhua report]. Chinese officials have detained 59 people, placing 35 in criminal detention. Investigators are currently searching for 20 others believed to have been involved. A State Council conference chaired by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao [BBC profile] said earlier this week that those who have illegally employed children or subjected workers to slave conditions will be severely punished. CBC earlier reported that one of the kiln foremen, who was caught after police offered a reward, expressed sorrow for the slaves, but said that he felt he did nothing wrong in enslaving them [CBC report]. Last week China was criticized by the US State Department for "not making a significant effort to combat human trafficking" [JURIST report]. CBC has more. The People's Daily has additional coverage.