In Cities and Villages, Children Are Getting Left Behind

The deaths—by suicide, violent attack, or apparent accident—of in rural areas have focused recent media attention on the plight of China’s 61 million “left-behind” whose parents have gone to work in cities, leaving them at home with relatives, or sometimes on their own. An AFP story two weeks ago looked at the options for education, or lack thereof, of “left-behind” children:

Most of the rural schools that cater to “left behind” children are poorly equipped, said Wei Jixue, a teacher in Chongshan village, also in Guangxi, southern China.

“The biggest problem for the children is drinking water,” he said. “We drink rainwater for lack of a better option, but this becomes difficult during the dry season,” he added, pointing to pupils lining up at a tank.

The 70 students at Wei’s school pack into a single classroom, all grades mixed together, and the courtyard is surrounded by a wall of concrete blocks.

On the building’s façade hangs a banner in red Chinese characters: “Love your country, love your work, work hard and innovate!”

But “left behind” children seem more preoccupied with helping their families than by schoolwork or games. [Source]

Children who are able to follow their parents into urban areas often don’t fare any better, with entrenched social inequalities limiting their access to basic resources like school and healthcare. Coco Feng at Quartz reports:

[..N]early as many displaced children are growing up in China’s urban centers, where they receive little attention from the government or society. Tens of millions of migrant workers have brought their kids with them to their jobs, and keep them in cities while they work.

Sometimes called “mobile” or “migrant” children, these kids and their families lack a local community support network, and often they don’t qualify for government schools because of China’s system, a household-registration system that determines the kind of welfare benefits citizens can get. Migrant children who inherit the so-called “rural ” from their parents don’t get the same rights as their new urban peers.

These children are forced to go to makeshift, expensive, non-government schools, which often lack adequate teaching, and can focus mainly on making profits. Disconnected from their original communities in rural areas, but without regular attention from a nearby parent, many of these kids are only slowly developing the socialization skills needed to one day become functioning adults.

In some cases, they’re getting a worse education than their parents did a generation ago in rural China. [Source]

The gap between wealthy urban China and poor rural areas was brought into stark contrast with a recent essay written by an orphaned 12-year-old, which went viral online. From Austin Ramzy at the New York Times:

The details of the girl’s daily life filled many readers with sympathy and surprise that, while China’s fast-growing economy has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, some still struggle to survive.

Yiwumu’s 16-year-old sister and 15-year-old brother have left the village in search of work. After her mother’s death, Yiwumu cared for two younger brothers, ages 10 and 5, but the two have since moved to Xichang, about 100 miles away over mountain roads, to a school run by the Sichuan Suoma Charity Foundation. Yiwumu has stayed in the village, where she lives with a younger cousin who is also orphaned, a representative of the charity foundation, who would only give his surname, Xu, said in an interview.

When Yiwumu is not in school, she cares for the family’s pigs, farms their potato field and watches after her cousin and grandparents, who live nearby. Under Chinese law, because she is an orphan she receives a monthly subsidy of 678 renminbi, or about $109 dollars, according to a report in the Beijing Youth Daily.

“What they are lacking isn’t money, but care,” Huang Hongbin, director general of the Sichuan Suoma Charity Foundation, said of the children, the news portal Sina reported. [Source]

Meanwhile, a recent piece by Will Ripley on CNN looks at children who are abandoned in China not because of their parents’ work or deaths but because they have medical disabilities that their parents do not have the social or financial support to care for. According to the report, the majority of children in China’s orphanages now have some sort of disability. When “baby hatches” were set up across the country starting in 2014 as a safe way for parents to leave abandoned babies, almost all of the children left had physical or mental ailments. From Ripley’s report:

“Children’s welfare policies are not complete in China,” says Wang Zhenyao, Dean of the China Philanthropy Research Institute. “Also, there are too many loopholes in our humanitarian policies.”

The China Philanthropy Research Institute, which works with UNICEF to produce the annual China Child Welfare Policy Report, wrote in a 2014 newsletter that the number of disabled orphans has grown by 30,000 to 50,000 every year. The institute says there are 878 non-government-funded organizations taking care of orphans and abandoned babies.

[…] Chinese orphanages and foster homes are no longer full of healthy girls, as they were at the height of the “one child” policy. Relaxed laws allow parents to pay fines for additional children and traditionally patriarchal societal views are slowly changing.

“Abandoned babies happened frequently before, and the situation was far more complicated several years ago [due to] the one-child-policy, the gender issue and poor living conditions in China,” Wang says. “Today, serious health problems would be the main reason children are being abandoned by parents.” [Source]

Read more about “left-behind” children, education for the children of migrant workers, abandoned children, and children in rural China, via CDT.