Chinese police have put 35 people under criminal detention and are hunting for 20 others involved in the forced labor scandal at illegal brick kilns in northern Shanxi Province, a senior official said on Friday.
Sun Baoshu, deputy minister of labor and social security, said 15 criminal cases have been put on file for investigation. "We'll resolutely combat rampant crimes in the forced labor scandal," he said.
Another 24 people have been put under administrative detention and 38 given security punishment, according to the official.
The central government has sent a team of investigators to look into the scandal that has raised nationwide concerns among the general public.
The scandal hit the headlines after a "call for help" letter was posted on the Internet earlier this month by more than 400 parents in central Henan Province, who believed their missing children had been sold to the small brick kilns.
Sun vowed to spare no effort to rescue and help victims of the forced labor scandal.
"Due salaries shall be paid; those who suffer from injuries shall be sent to hospital; local government shall help them get in touch with their families or their hometown authorities," Sun said.
The official said the scandal reflected indifference and dereliction of duty among some governments and officials at the basic level.
China will launch a large-scale nationwide investigation on laborers employed in small kilns and collieries following the exposure of the Shanxi scandal.
Lawbreakers that illegally employ children, force people to work or maliciously injure workers will be severely punished, according to a state council conference chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday.
A total of 3,347 brick kilns have been investigated in Shanxi in the wake of the scandal, among which 2,036 were operating without licenses or permits. Authorities have closed down 315 of them permanently.
Primary investigations have also found some government and law-enforcing officials took part in the operation of illegal brick kilns, abusing their power for personal gains, said Sun.
Two labor watchdog officers in Yongji City, Shanxi, have been detained by local police in connection with the kiln slavery scandal.
Hou Junyuan, head of the labor inspection team of Yongji City's labor and social security bureau, was accused of dereliction of duty and detained on Thursday afternoon. Another officer from the team, Shang Guangze, was arrested on charges of abuse of power.
The two had transferred an under-age laborer, who was from central Henan Province and being sent back home, to another kiln for new employment.
Shang has been sacked.