'In The Black Factories, No One Knows Anyone's Name'

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Henan parents of missing children discuss their sons' cases.
Henan parents of missing children discuss their sons' cases.

Henan mother Li Yuqiang has joined a growing group of desperate parents of missing children in China, who are banding together to share resources and hunt for each others' children in the absence of official interest in their fate. Those who have been found have often emerged with nightmarish tales of forced labor and physical abuse in one of China's underground sweatshops known as "black factories":

The police told me that boys of 15 and 16 are just beginning to get online. They said I shouldn't be afraid and that he probably went to an Internet cafe. That's what they told me. I have been to the police station every day for the past month or more.

There's not a single day that I don't go there and cry. They say to me that they can't go out looking for him with me every single day. That's what they said. Then I asked if they had set up a [missing persons] case, and they said it didn't amount to a [missing persons] case.

So the parents who have lost kids band together to go out and look for them.

There was one kid last year, no, the year before last, who was in Nanyang. He didn't even know where he was, but he escaped from Nanyang.

In [the sweatshop] they don't use names but registration numbers. Nobody knows anyone else's name. They are given a number. He was 200 something.

I think about him every day. I miss him.

Another member of the group, who gave only her surname Diao, said police also seemed slow to respond to information she gathered independently:

I know that my son went missing somewhere near the Luoyang Railway Station. There are a lot of people near the Luoyang Railway Station recruiting for those sweatshops, the black factories.

I have seen them recruit someone and take him away with my own eyes. I actually got on my motorbike and followed the criminal myself.

I followed him all the way to where he was based. When I got back, I got a few people together and we went to the police station to report him [but] they let him go after he wouldn't answer any questions.

Xi said she had spotted her own son on a news report about slave labor:

I said, "Look, isn't that Xiao Gang? It's Xiao Gang!" But he was just in the shot for the briefest time, then he disappeared again. After that, I went to the police again. That was a brick factory in Kaolao village, Yongji city.

But when I got there, there wasn't a single person there. It was a desolate wasteland with no sign of human life. But the bunk beds were all still there. When I saw it, it was exactly the same as it had been on the television.

There was a boy who had worked alongside my son. He had escaped. He was rescued by a journalist. I asked him why my son hadn't escaped alongside him, and he said that his legs were hurting him so he didn't dare to attempt it.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.





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