Call for fairer treatment for migrant children in Beijing goes unheeded

Two civil rights activists in Beijing have urged the municipal authorities to accept the children of migrant workers into city’s kindergartens so that they don’t have to pay high fees at private nurseries or risk sending their children to poorly supervised unlicensed kindergartens.

Hu Xingdou, a professor at the Beijing Polytechnic University, and public interest lawyer, Li Fangping, submitted a motion to the Beijing People’s Congress last week calling for equal rights for migrant children in the city’s kindergartens. According to official figures, there are nearly 2,600 kindergartens in Beijing but only 300 of these are state-run. There are a total of 1,298 unlicensed kindergartens across the city, reflecting the huge demand for childcare in the migrant worker community.

The Beijing People’s Congress has yet not responded to the motion, but officials in Chaoyang district have already taken action to deliberately exclude rather than include migrant children. At least 6,000 migrant children will have no classes to go to when they return from the Spring Festival break in late February. Kyodo News reports that the children attended 20 privately run migrant schools in Chaoyang, all of which have now been earmarked for redevelopment.

In recent years, Beijing and other major cities have closed down many migrant schools on the pretext that they are unsafe or had poor teaching standards. In reality, the interests of migrant children are the least of the local officials’ concerns. In Chaoyang, for example, an official said the government would not be responsible for helping the affected schools relocate because they were “illegally run.” As for the children, “We encourage the parents to send their children back to their hometowns, because there, education is free and the quality of education is high,” he said. Both of these assertions are patently false; rural education is neither completely free nor of a high quality. See CLB’s report on child labour and failings of the rural school system in China.

There are about 300 privately-run migrant schools Beijing but only about 20 percent have received government approval. Rapid urban development means that unlicensed migrant schools have to move frequently and on very short notice, with one school reportedly relocating eight times in 15 years. In the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, hundreds of migrant schools were closed as part of the city’s cleanup campaign.

Clearly, despite official claims to the contrary, the children of migrant workers are still considered by urban governments and residents alike to be second-class citizens.
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