Reporter Oliver Steeds and producer Matt Haan travel to China to follow one father's inspirational search for his son, who was abducted and sold into slavery. They expose one of the untold stories behind China's economic boom, discovering how thousands of young men with mental impairments have been kidnapped and forced to work in brick factories.
The team meet 62-year-old farmer He Zhimin in Sanyuan town in central China. He Wen - his son who has the mental age of a child and used to live at home - went missing last June.
Mr He says a woman approached his son at the local market, offered him a job and money and then abducted him. Mr He believes the woman was part of a trafficking gang and that his son has been abducted and forced into a life of slavery.
The disappearance was reported to the police, but Mr He claims they have done very little and he's been left to search for his son on his own. He tells Steeds that a few months ago, He Wen was spotted in a nearby town. Eyewitnesses told him his son was being forced to work in local brick factories, which have a reputation for using forced labour supplied by trafficking gangs.
With hundreds of brick kilns across the county, Mr He has an almost impossible task. He has visited 40 kilns and come across many other cases of mentally impaired people who have been abducted into slavery. As a result of his investigations, he's been threatened and at times violently attacked.
The team travels with Mr He to a brick factory where he believes his son might be held. Labourers claim He Wen was forced to carry hot bricks from the oven and was beaten all over his body if he didn't work hard enough. But the factory was recently abandoned.
Just over a month beforehand, Mr He had received a call in response to one of his posters. A mentally impaired man fitting his son's description had been found wandering the streets.
Mr He introduces the Unreported World team to the man he found - Liu Xiaoping - along with his family. Xiaoping is 30, but he has the mental age of a child. He reveals to Mr He that he worked alongside his son in a brick factory.
Xiaoping's father says his son was also groomed like He Wen and enslaved in brick factories for 10 months. He says his son was chained up at night. If he wasn't working hard enough in the day a hot metal rod was burnt across his face. Xiaoping's injuries got so bad that he couldn't work and he was thrown out onto the streets where Mr He found him.
Mr He also introduces the team to another father, Mr Li, who says his son disappeared from the street outside his house. He believes he was abducted and is now being forced to work in a brick factory. He's printed off over 10,000 cards with details of his son on the back but has heard nothing.
Yang Bin works for the only organisation helping families track down mentally impaired relatives who've been abducted. He estimates there could be at least 10,000 currently enslaved. He says it is difficult to prosecute the traffickers and brick factory owners because often the testimonies of people with mental impairment are not accepted in Chinese courts even when there is substantial evidence.
Yang Bin agrees to help Mr He, who says no witness statements have been taken by the police and he hasn't even been allowed to register He Wen as a missing person. Yang fears local police officers could be colluding with some of the brick factory owners.
Mr He receives more potential sightings of his son from several eyewitnesses at a nearby brick factory: the same one where Xiaoping claims he was held. The team investigates, filming secretly, but unfortunately there's no sign of He Wen. The manager denies all allegations. Despite another dead-end Mr He vows never to give up searching.Watch now on 4oD
|Friday 22 April 2011||Channel 4|
|Friday 22 April 2011||7.30PM||Channel 4|