A group of children were the center of attention in a tourist hotspot in southwest China when they took to the streets to demand their parents be paid overdue wages.
The 13 children, the youngest just five, stood in a line in downtown Dali in Yunnan Province, holding posters demanding immediate payment.
Their parents are migrant workers at a development project in Dali whose wages have been in arrears for six years.
"I'm Yu Xian. I want milk and cakes. Please pay my parents their wages," read a poster held by five-year-old Yu from Qujing City in Yunnan.
He said his father had worked for many years in Dali. "He hasn't been home for a long time. I want him to get paid so that I can go to school," Yu said.
Five of the young petitioners had just been admitted to college.
"I've come to help my father claim his wages because my college tuition is a headache for the whole family," said Liu Qiang, a teenage girl from Chongqing City.
Liu has been accepted as a student at Kunming University of Science and Technology in Yunnan's provincial capital of Kunming and needs money to pay her tuition.
Delayed payment of wages has led to at least one family break-up. Wu Fan, 8, said his parents divorced after his father failed to mail money home. "My mom was sure he had squandered the money gambling or on drugs."
The plight of the children and their families drew widespread attention in the ancient city of Dali, which is always packed with tourists from around the world.
Photos of the scene taken by tourists were posted online.
The children's action seems to have worked, with a promise the wages will be paid in full.
While Internet users blamed a "profit-driven employer," Xinhua news agency reporters uncovered project management loopholes and found that the victims were part of a larger economic dispute.
The developer, Yunnan Guangsha Real Estate Co Ltd, reached a deal with the local government in 2006 to build a complex comprising a holiday resort, department stores and exhibition hall at the cost of 97 million yuan (US$15.26 million). The project, contracted to a major construction group in Kunming but later subcontracted to Golden Carpenter, a smaller firm, ran into problems when the boss of Guangsha was arrested in 2009 on suspicion of fraud.
Last year, Guangsha was taken over by a local tourism company in Dali, but more than 21 million yuan of construction costs due to be remitted through the main contractor to Golden Carpenter were unpaid, including 17 million yuan for workers' wages, said Gao Zhonghan, a Golden Carpenter executive.
However, after the children joined their parents' petition for pay, the Dali city government demanded the tourism company settle the issue.
The company has remitted 3 million yuan to the main contractor, whose management promised that the workers would be paid in full.
Under a new rule in force since last year in Yunnan, all construction companies should deposit at least 10 percent of their construction costs in the bank as a reserve fund for workers' wages.
"But it takes time for all construction companies to follow the rule and for the migrants to get paid," said a project contractor in Kunming, surnamed Zhang.
Zhang said several provinces, including Shanxi and Henan, had moved to blacklist contractors notorious for delaying payments. "But when a project is subcontracted again and again, it is hard to track the root of the dispute," Zhang said.
A group of 13 children drew widespread attention in China last week by helping their parents claim wages held in arrears. Full story