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Orphan fighters to be removed from Chinese MMA club and ‘sent back to school’

After a video of Chinese orphans competing in MMA went viral, local authorities have stepped in to investigate.

Pear Video / YouTube

Last week a short documentary featuring two young boys cage-fighting (and many others training to do the same) went viral in China. The film, produced by Pear Video, focused on Chengdu-based Enbo Fight Club, an MMA gym founded by former special police officer En Bo that has reportedly adopted as many as 400 Chinese children (including orphans) and trained them to become fighters.

The video raised concerns over the treatment of the boys being housed, fed, and trained at Enbo. In one scene, an Enbo trainer reveals that the boys are “more or less” paid to fight; with the club providing money to the children when they needed it. The trainer refused to say how much money was being earned by the diminutive prize-fighters.

The New Strait Times reported that the video had sparked ‘outrage’ in China since its release. BBC reported that the video had been viewed at least 12 million times on Chinese social media platforms, inspiring ‘lively’ debates over Enbo’s operation.

Days after the initial backlash, it appears local authorities in Sichuan province have decided to take action against Enbo Fight Club. Zhuang Pinghui of South China Morning Post reported that - according to a Shanghai news portal - education officials are set to send at least two orphans from EnBo back home, over concerns they were being exploited.

Those boys are from Butuo county in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture. Liangshan is situated in the extreme south of Sichuan province and is home to a number of isolated villages carved into steep cliffs. Liangshan is also home to millions of individuals who belong to the Yi ethnic minority. The history, culture, and language of the Yi people share many similarities with that of Tibetan people.

Lianghshan is one of China’s poorest regions and its children have long been targeted for exploitation. In 2008 The Guardian reported that 167 Yi children from Liangshan had been rescued after being found working in factories in the province of Guangdong. The children, who were as young as seven, were allegedly sold at a street market in Sichuan. In 2013 China Labour Bulletin reported that 70 Yi children from Liangshan were discovered working at a Hong-Kong owned electronics company in Shenzhen.

The Pear Video documentary alleges that Enbo Fight Club had adopted as many as 400 orphaned children. En Bo is quoted by claiming he set up his gym around 2001 and that after encountering orphaned children wandering the mountains or streets he began adopting them in order to help them. In that interview En Bo also claimed some of his students had landed jobs with the special police.

According to SCMP education officials from Liangshan have been sent to Chengdu to inspect the club. An unnamed official is reported saying, “The underage children will be taken back to Liangshan and we’ll arrange for them to go to school.” Schools in Liangshan have been asked to identify children who joined Enbo and to report any that fail to return. Liangshan’s education authority sent an official directive to area schools claiming that Enbo had “incited and used underage children in commercial fighting and made a huge profit.”

Neither Enbo Fight Club, nor its founder En Bo, have publicly commented on the investigation.