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August 9, 2011

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An escape from years of servitude

THE mentally retarded young man was tugging at his worn-out pieces of clothing, trying to cover as much skin as he could to hide the scars and wounds all over his body.

They were telling how he escaped from a bath house where the owners had imprisoned him and forced him into free labor for three years.

It was on July 6 when the young man, wearing broken clothes and a shy grin, greeted 43-year-old Cheng Guangyun with a single word, "Dad," that Cheng eventually recognized him as his beloved son who went missing in the city three years ago.

In the past three years, the 20-year-old Cheng Shiwei, a Chongqing native, had been held in a downtown bath house and forced by its owner to wash towels 20 hours a day, seven days a week to pay a 2,000 yuan "debt," his father said.

Cheng carried the debt after two strangers he met on the street took advantage of his mental condition by taking him to a bath house in downtown Xuhui District and leaving him there to pay the service fees for them.

"I still remember it was June 10, 2008, when Cheng went missing after he sent his six-year-old brother to school," said the father. "Then the two bad guys met him on the street and used him."

Being unable to say where he lived in the city or to find his parents to pay the money, Cheng was held by the bath house owner to work in the house until he could pay the debt.

Cheng's father told Shanghai Daily that the young man was trapped in the workshop since then with tough men guarding the entrance.

"Washing dirty towels is the only thing he was doing from 6am to 1 or 2am on the next day," the father said. "The guards barely fed him with leftovers, and if he didn't wash the towels clean enough, he had to go without dinner as punishment."

After the bath house went bankrupt, Chen was sold by the facility owner to other bath centers in the city to work as free labor. He has worked in bath houses in Jiading District and the Pudong New Area without a single penny earned, the father said.

The young man finally gathered up courage and "broke" from one of the bath houses by pretending to be a customer and slipped away with the crowds, the father said.

After wandering on the street for a few days, Cheng went into another bath house in the Pudong New Area and told its owner that he had been kidnapped, and the owner called police, who later contacted his father.

The father said Cheng is now suffering some other problems at home after reuniting with his family. Cheng couldn't sleep at night and started trembling every time he was asked to share some housework, such as cleaning the dishes.

"The only things I am thinking about now are to cure his mental illness and get the bath house owner punished by law," said the father.

Police are investigating the case.


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