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SHANGHAI— The death of a 14-year-old Russian model working in China has sparked controversy over working conditions for models in the country, especially child labourers.

Vlada Dzyuba’s death has been confirmed by his agency Esee Model Management, which held a press conference on Monday to discuss his passing. According to the agency, she succumbed to sepsis on October 27. The disease occurs when an infection spreads through the bloodstream and is usually found in people with weakened immune systems.

Esee said that contrary to reports that Dzyuba died of extreme fatigue, she was only sent on 16 missions during her two months in the country, most of them ending within eight hours.

Globally, the issue of model protections is a thorny one, recently re-emerging into the spotlight due to rampant reports of sexual abuse. While countries like France have taken steps to ban underweight models, a law that came into force in May, and luxury conglomerates LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering signed a charter in September against the use of models under the age of 16, the regulations of the Chinese modeling industry are rare.

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According to the agency’s account, on the Tuesday before his death, Dzyuba had attended a photo shoot in Yiwu, a city in central Zhejiang province, and had started feeling ill that evening at his hotel. The next day, as she was still not feeling well, the agency canceled her assignment and sent her back to Shanghai. She was taken to the emergency room of Shanghai Ruijin Hospital at 6 p.m. that evening and officials from the Russian consulate were contacted. That Thursday she was taken to intensive care, due to her deteriorating condition, and on Friday at 7:36 a.m. she died of multiple organ failure as well as liver and liver dysfunction. kidney caused by sepsis.

She was last active on her Russian social media account,, at 10:16 a.m. China Standard Time on Wednesday.

Vlada Dzyuba

The Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Shanghai did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Esee, a well-known agency with offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Xiamen and Hangzhou, had signed a three-month contract with Dzyuba. The company provided WWD with a copy of a work permit notification form, in which his name is spelled as Dziuba. The company said it follows the spelling of his name in his passport, although his social media accounts spell it with a “y”. Esee said all of its models enter China on legal work visas.

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Chinese labor law considers an employee under the age of 16 to be a child worker. According to Article 15 of the Labor Law of the PRC, employers are prohibited from recruiting minors under the age of 16, except for institutions of literature, art, physical culture and handicrafts specialized. These recruitment exceptions must, however, be studied and approved by the government authorities and must guarantee the rights of minors to compulsory education.

Poor living conditions are common in the industry in China, said Chris Chang, designer and founder of Poesia, a womenswear brand showcased at Shanghai Fashion Week. Combined with industry pressures for models to cut weight and thin pads for working children, modeling can extract a heavy toll.

“All of this can be detrimental to a child’s mental and physical well-being,” Chang said. “It’s unfortunate that these agencies, and the models themselves, needed to get as much work done as possible to make their short stay in China worthwhile. They were probably malnourished, overworked and partying the night. The combination of all these things can be deadly. It’s sad that the industry in general exploits beautiful young girls who love money and fame.

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