23 children found enslaved in southern Vietnam

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Twenty three children between the ages of 12 and 16 were returned to their families Thursday after being rescued from sewing factories in Ho Chi Minh City where they'd been enslaved since early this year, VnExpress reported.

According to the newswire, the children, all from the Kh'Mu ethnic minority community, were brought from their hometown in the northern province of Dien Bien by 67-year-old Le Thi Duc to work at the sewing factories run by Duc' sons.

Initial information showed that Duc recruited them after paying their parents between VND1 and 3.5 million (US$48-168) each as a deposit on their salary.

They agreed that the children wouldn't receive a salary, but accommodation and meals only, for the first two years. After that they were to receive VND500,000 (US$24) per month, or VND5 million per year, VnExpress reported.

The salary would be paid when their employment "contracts" end, or when their family was in need of money, according to the Ministry of Public Security's criminal police department, which was cited in the report. The department made the rescue in cooperation with the Vietnam Women's Union of HCMC, according to the report.

The children told authorities they were forced to work 14 hours per day.

The newswire said police found the children during a search launched after the Dien Bien police division sent a letter asking for help in locating missing children working in the city's Tan Phu District.

An unnamed investigator told VnExpress that besides the Kh'Mu children, the factories also employed many other children, but they ran away from harsh working conditions, including inadequate meals and being beaten when failing to complete their work.

Some of them then became beggars and were later brought to the Bien Hoa Center for Children Vocational Training Supports, according to the investigator.

Duc and her sons, Le The Tuan, 35, and Le Hong Quang, 30, are now being investigated on charges of illegal employment of children, VnExpress said, adding that the sons were also accused of running a business without a license.

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