updated 12/19/2007 10:47:14 AM ET 2007-12-19T15:47:14

Two married schoolteachers who forced 23 rural girls — some younger than 14 — into having sex with Chinese coal mine owners have been sentenced to death, a court official said Wednesday.

Zhao Qingmei and her husband, Chi Yao, were convicted by the Bijie Intermediate Court on Dec. 14 of forcing 22 girls from a school where they taught into prostitution in the poor province of Guizhou in southwest China, according to a woman working at the court who refused to give her name.

Six of the girls were under the age of 14. The couple had also forced one local village girl into the scheme, which took place between March and June last year.

Chi's sentence, however, was suspended for two years — meaning that if he shows good behavior in jail for the next two years, it will be commuted to life imprisonment, the court official said.

The two teachers were arrested in August after fleeing to neighboring Sichuan province, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

They were part of a group involving at least 14 others that made $4,400 from the vice activities. Other suspects have been sentenced to prison.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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