Those Left Behind

There are 110 million migrant workers in China aged between 16 and 40 years old.  They left home in the hope of building a better life for themselves and their family, yet when they start a family of their own, they are faced with a stark choice; either take their children to the cities and subject them to institutionalized discrimination, or leave them behind in the countryside in the uncertain care of relatives.

Recent research has shown that the number of children left behind is about 58 million, three times higher than previously estimated. Moreover, compared with other children, those left behind are more likely to be victims of crime, and a significantly higher proportion suffers from psychological and behavioral problems caused by long-term separation from their parents.

In the cities, the children of migrant workers usually attend sub-standard schools and illegal clinics because of their “inferior” status and low household income. As their parents have to work excessively long hours in arduous jobs leaving little or no time for their families, migrant children in cities consequently develop psychological problems disturbingly similar to those left behind.

China Labour Bulletin’s Aris Chan has conducted extensive research on migrant workers in China and presents below the first in a comprehensive three-part survey on the children of these workers. The first part looks at those left behind, the second part will examine the plight of migrant workers’ children in the cities, and the final section will analyze the response of the Chinese government to this increasingly serious issue. The study concludes that the only real and lasting solution to the problems of migrant workers’ children is the abolition of China’s antiquated and discriminatory household registration (hukou 戶口) system, and the establishment of a welfare system equally accessible to all.



Table of Contents

  1. Those Left Behind
  2. Under the same blue sky? Rural migrant children in urban China


Those Left Behind

 

I don't want to leave. I want to stay, to be with you every spring, summer, autumn and winter. Please believe me, not for long, I will be reunited with you for the rest of our life. – translated from a Chinese pop song dedicated to migrant workers.[1]

My parents left home when I was very young. Their faces are fading away – a first year middle school student in China.[2]

Given the intense and systematic discrimination faced by migrant workers and their children in the cities, most parents choose to leave their children in their hometowns. Until very recently, it was estimated by the Chinese government that there were around 20 million children left behind in the countryside.[3]  However there were no reliable or comprehensive statistics because different studies defined left-behind children in different ways. The upper age limit of left-behind children varied considerably in different studies; some set it at 14 years,[4]  others 16 years[5]  or 18 years of age.[6]

It was not until 2007, after an All-China Women's Federation research team conducted an in-depth study based on the 2005 Bi-Census of one percent of the national population that a better picture of China's left-behind children emerged. The research team estimated that there were about 58 million children below 18 years of age left behind by parents in the countryside, accounting for 21 percent of all children in China, and 28 percent of all rural children.[7]

The survey found that more than 40 million left-behind children were under 15 years of age,[8]  and that more than 30 million were aged between six and 15. In some provinces, such as Henan, Hunan, Guangdong, and Shandong, a higher concentration of younger children was found. The majority of children left behind were boys (53.7 percent), corresponding to the overall gender ratio in rural China of 118.100 in favour of boys. However, a higher proportion of girls was found in Beijing, Shanghai, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, and Xinjiang.[9]

Left-behind children were not only found in the traditional migrant worker exporting provinces of western and central China, but also in the prosperous east coast provinces. Six provinces – Sichuan, Anhui, Henan, Guangdong, Hunan, and Jiangxi accounted for 52 percent of all China's left-behind children. (See map of the distribution of left-behind children). In some counties, in which large numbers workers had migrated to other counties or provinces, the proportion of left-behind children reached as high as 53 percent or even 83 percent of all children.[10][11][12]

Based on data from the 2005 Bi-Census, 47 percent of left-behind children were living with one parent, usually with their mothers,[13]  and 26 percent were living with grandparents. In some extreme cases, grandparents had to take care of up to seven children. More than 27 percent of left-behind children were living with other relatives, friends, or without the care of adults. In most families, the husband would work in the city for a few years before his wife joined him. More than half of all children left behind (53 percent) had no direct parental care. (See classification of living arrangements). In the western and central regions, the proportion of children living with grandparents reached as high as 73 percent.[14]  The younger the child, the higher the likelihood was that both parents would be working away from home. About 75 percent of left-behind children below the age of six were not living with either parent compared with only 47 percent of those aged between 15 and 17[15],  reflecting the higher proportion of younger workers in the migrant population. (See the age structure of left-behind children)

Separated for years on end

Children living with relatives, friends or by themselves have only limited contact with their parents. Based on a survey by the Changsha municipal government, 44 percent of children saw their parents once a year; the same proportion of children were able to see their parents twice a year; and three percent once every two years. In some extreme cases, children had not seen their parents in six years[16].  More than 62 percent of parents of left-behind children in Hunan province had been working away from home for two years or more, and 26 percent for three years or more. Some parents had been away for more than 13 years. Nearly half the children (45 percent) did not know where their parents worked, and 75 percent had not visited their parents in their host cities[17].  A larger study by the Agricultural University of ten villages in north and western China in 2004 found that ten percent of the children interviewed had no communication with their parents at all during the year before the study[18].  In some remote areas such as Weishan in Sichuan, 51 percent of parents returned home only once a year; 18 percent once every two years, while 13 percent had not returned home for three years.[19]

All too often, for left-behind children, the fear of separation from their parents is overwhelming, especially for younger children the first few times their parents leave. The following is a personal account of a teenage boy who, together with his brother, was cared for by his grandmother:

I was studying in primary school. I remember I constantly cried as I missed my mom so much. One day, when I came home from school, I saw my mother preparing a meal in the kitchen. I was so excited that my heart started beating frantically. I was afraid that it was only my imagination, and I looked again and again. Oh, it was real! I was so happy! "Are you hungry?" my mother asked. "Yes! I am hungry. My stomach is grumbling," I replied loudly.

When I woke up the next morning, I did not see my mother around! I got up and hurriedly looked for her in every corner of the house but couldn't find her. I started to panic and rushed out on my bare feet to my grandma's home hoping she was there. When I reached grandma's home, I saw mom. "Mama, I was afraid that you had gone!"

A few days later, when I was playing on the roadside, I saw mother walking by to the bus stop. This time she was really leaving. In order not to attract my attention, she quickened her step. Even so, I managed to see her. I ran to her and grasped her hand tightly. Seeing me not letting my mother go, grandma came and pulled me away. When I saw mama start to board, my heart sank. I used all of my strength to struggle away from grandma's arms, ran to the bus and pulled at my mom's clothes. In the meantime, uncle rushed in and separated me from my mother. I became desperate and started kicking aimlessly. By the time my uncle let go of me, the bus had already departed. Thinking about nothing but getting my mother back, I chased after the bus…. Unfortunately, the bus became smaller and finally disappeared. I slumped onto the road, cried, and cried…On my way home, the sky was grey. It was like the sky was feeling sorry for me too. I was so angry that when I saw a frog happily hopping down the road I gave it a big kick. I hated anything in sight.[20]

Communication between parents and children left behind is basically through the telephone. A survey in Beijing found that about 80 percent of children talked with their parents on the phone once every two weeks.[21] The Agricultural University's study found that 30 percent of left-behind children contacted their parents only once a month. Half of them talked for less than three minutes each call.[22]

A middle school student in Shandong wrote about how much he wanted to talk to his parents.[23]

Papa, mama,

You are not with me now. Every time you go, you stay away for at least half a year. I miss you so much. Whenever I dream about you, I cry. When grandpa hears me crying, he says your hearts are cold. But I know you are working hard in other places for me.

One day, I passed the kiosk in my primary school, I saw a sign that read "public phone," I wished I could call you, but I did not have your telephone number. All I could do was look at the phone while crying.

Papa, mama, I am writing to ask for your telephone number. I will be as happy if you just give me a public telephone number where I can reach you. I could call you at an arranged time. The number of the public phone in my school's kiosk is 7254897. I hope you can call me when you receive this letter. If I know your number, I can call you too. I long to hear your voices every day!

But this letter will not be sent because I don't know where you are….

Children left behind with no adult care or supervision have to cope by themselves. The Wall Street Journal interviewed one such child, 16 year-old Zhao Yan, who had lived on her own in rural Anhui for two years. Her mother died when she was a little girl, and, when she was old enough to cook for herself, her father moved to Shanghai to look for work. "I miss my dad a lot," she said.

On most days, Zhao Yan wakes early, then takes a 30-minute bicycle ride to school. She returns to an empty home to cook for herself. Her dogs run out to the road at the sound of her voice when she gets close to her small brick house. They sit by her as she begins her daily ritual of lighting a fire in the large brick oven she uses to cook.

An elderly woman who lives next door occasionally visits, and sometimes Zhao Yan has friends over. But the dogs and a borrowed black-and-white television are often her only companions. The middle-school student does her homework by the glow of the screen and listens to music videos in the unheated house.

"There isn't much to do when my father isn't here," she says...

Zhao Yan's father leaves about US$100 for her each time he goes to the city, usually for two to three months at a time. She uses the money to buy groceries -- mostly vegetables, because she waits for her father to return to eat meat, which is more expensive. Without her father around, Zhao Yan says she sometimes skips meals. She prefers to cook for him during the Lunar New Year and harvest seasons when he returns home for a few weeks.[24]

Necessity makes left-behind children more self-reliant. In a survey of 3,086 left-behind children in primary and middle schools in Yunfu city, Guangdong, about half the respondents said that when they encountered problems, they tended to solve them on their own, less than one third would go to their parents, only five percent would talk to teachers.[25]

Insecurity, anxiety and fear

Separation from parents causes some form of mental distress for the majority of left-behind children. She Mao, a professor at Central South University, conducted a field survey in Hunan, Anhui and other provinces and concluded: "Very few left-behind children are healthy and lively…less than 20 percent." On the contrary, he said: "Deprived of love, more than 60 percent of children manifested mild to moderate psychological disorders." Professor She recalled a 10-year old girl he had met in a hilly village in Hunan province. According to her grandparents; "On the day her parent left, she cried for the whole day. Since then, however, no one has seen her shed a single tear, and no has heard her utter a word." When strangers came to her home, she would hide underneath her bed, like a frightened kitten. She had slashed her wrist many times. On one occasion, her teacher found a letter she had written: "I think, if I hurt my hands, my mother will come home. My mother came home the last time my hand was injured. She also brought me a lot of food. So, I must get hurt often…But, when I saw mother, I couldn't say a word, I just couldn't. I really miss mom."[26]

In a survey in Sichuan, the province with the highest number of left-behind children, 60 percent of children said their relatives did not treat them as well as their parents. 75 percent of left-behind children wanted their parents to come home as soon as possible, and 60 percent did not want their parents to work in the cities.[27]

Relatives entrusted with the care of left-behind children often find it difficult to provide the emotional and psychological support growing children need. Most guardians regard the personal safety of the child as their most important task, followed by academic achievement and provision of material needs.[28][29] The Sichuan survey found that 80 percent of grandparents found it difficult to satisfy the psychological needs of their grandchildren; 15 percent said they did not care about such needs at all.[30]  Another survey by Zhejiang University found that 68 percent of guardians seldom found time to talk with their charges. Only 11.3 percent of left-behind children talked to a guardian when they had emotional difficulties.[31]

When the need for parental care is not satisfied over an extended period, children begin to suppress their needs. A survey by the Central South Social Development Research Center found that 43 percent of parents said their children gradually became less attached.[32] Some children try to fill the void with anything close to them. Missing his mother, an eight-year old boy in Guizhou pondered if he might marry his lamb when he grew up. "I used to miss my parents, but not anymore… there is no point missing them," he said. For this little boy, his lamb had replaced the love his mother had once given him.[33]  According to a report by the Hunan Provincial Youth League, 9.3 percent of children did not miss their parents at all.[34] "Ever since birth, they have been cared for by their grandparents. Some don't even remember what their parents look like. For some left-behind children, the concept of parents is merely symbolic, not a genuinely emotional concept," said the head of the Hunan Youth League.[35]

After their parents left, many children became quieter and more withdrawn, keeping unhappiness to themselves and loosing the motivation to study.[36][37] In a seminar on left-behind children, 90 percent of those interviewed said they experienced some psychological changes after their parents left. Most girls claimed that they became more depressed and fearful, and boys found themselves more irritated and anxious. The remaining 10 percent did not respond.[38] Most psychological studies found that left-behind children were more likely than other rural children to feel depressed, emotional, anxious, fearful, become easily irritated and intransigent, and have a lower self-esteem.[39][40][41][42]

Knowing that their parents were working hard in a faraway place without family support, 90 percent of children worried about the health of their parents, and more than half were worried about their own safety.[43] This phenomenon is now so widespread, the Chinese media refers to it as "left-behind syndrome."[44]

Although there is no academic research directly on the prevalence of suicidal behavior among left-behind children, anecdotal evidence suggests it is a worrying problem. For example, a pair of cousins, aged nine and 13, drowned themselves in a river after being accused of stealing from a neighborhood store. They tried to contact their parents for support, but failed to reach them. In their suicide letter, they complained about living apart from their parents. Consequently, the whole family was overwhelmed with sadness and their grandmother succumbed to illness.[45]

In another incident, Zhang, a 12 year-old boy from Anhui, hanged himself in a shed near the clan hall after the Spring Festival in 2008. Zhang's father left home to work in a tobacco factory when Zhang was a toddler. And after Zhang's mother joined his father four years ago, leaving Zhang in the care of his grandfather and aunt, he became increasingly sullen and quiet. Nobody knew why Zhang committed suicide, but on the eighth day of the Chinese New Year, he told his mother that if she did not come home in two months, she would never see him again. He couldn't wait for the deadline.[46]

Research has shown that school students in China who were ridiculed or bullied were more likely to contemplate suicide. A survey of 1,576 secondary students (predominately aged between 13 and 17) in the coastal province of Zhejiang, found about nine percent of students claimed to have attempted suicide (seven percent of the boys and 11 percent of the girls), compared with only 2.1 percent for boys and 5.1 percent for girls in the United States. Females living in rural areas with a poor academic record, low household income, low parental education, and living with only one or no parents (characteristics typical of left-behind children) were more likely to feel depressed.[47] Another study found that 17 percent of junior and senior secondary students had thought about suicide just in the month prior to the survey. A significantly higher prevalence was found among children who had negative self-esteem, higher passivity scores, and poor familial relationships.[48]

Accidents and injuries

Home is often the safest place for children, but it can also be the most dangerous place if they are not properly supervised. Several studies have shown that left-behind children are significantly more vulnerable to accidents than other rural children. The most common injuries are animal bites, falls, vehicular accidents, burning or scalding and cutting and piercing.[49]  In one migrant worker family in Guangdong, three sisters were each severely injured over a period of seven years. The elder sisters' legs were burnt during a fire, the second sister was badly scalded while helping her grandmother handle boiling water, and the youngest sister suffered terrible burns on her face when she was boiling water at home. After her injury, the youngest daughter did not leave the house and was referred to by villagers as the "ghost child." In another tragedy in Chongqing, a child suffocated to death in a truck whilst playing hide-and-seek with his cousin.[50]

During natural disasters, left-behind children are particularly vulnerable, at the same time their inner-strength and determination can make them into heroes. On the night of 31 May 2005, 12 children were swept away in a flashflood in Hunan; all but one was a left-behind child.[51]  On 12 May 2008, a huge earthquake devastated Sichuan, the largest exporter of migrant labour in China, leaving nearly 70,000 people dead and more than 370,000 injured. In the immediate aftermath, cut-off from the outside world, thousands of children were left alone to face their fate. Of the many tragic and heart-warming tales that emerged from that time, one touched the nation. Accompanied by his elderly grandparents, eleven year-old Zhang Jiwan carried his three-year old sister on his back through rubble and fallen rocks for 12 hours until they and their fellow villagers reached safety.[52]

 
Zhang Jiwan carries his little sister out of the mountains.
Photograph by Southern Metropolis Daily journalist Yan Liang

Victims of crime

In a quite, peaceful town in eastern Sichuan, 14 year-old Fangfang has just had an abortion. A month earlier, her mother noticed a marked decline in her school grades. Fangfang looked pale and continually complained of fatigue. When her mother took her to hospital, they discovered that Fangfang was three months pregnant. Fangfang confessed that she had developed a sexual relationship with a 53 year-old teahouse owner, named Wang, known by the village children as Grandpa. Lying on her hospital bed, pale and weak, Fangfang told her story: In January this year [2006], a primary school girl named Honghong told me that Grandpa had some clothes in his shop for me to pick up. When I got to the teahouse, he dragged me to a hut behind his shop and raped me. He gave me 20 yuan and threatened me not to tell a soul.

According to the police investigation, Honghong had taken many of her friends, aged between nine and 15 years, to the culprit. On each occasion he gave the victims between 20 to 100 yuan. All the victims were left-behind children. In fact, Honghong was a victim herself. One day when she was idling in Wang's teahouse, Wang showed her pornography and seduced her. Like many left behind children, Honghong was taken care of by an elderly grandmother.[53]

In 2005, Southern Metropolis Daily reported that a 43 year-old serial sex offender, named Tang, had allegedly "bought" the virginity of 17 girls in a southwestern Henan city over a two year period from 2004. Tang had worked in the district tax office before starting his own business. In 2004, Tang "bought" the virginity of a 15-year old girl, named Xiao Tong, at a beauty parlor for 1,500 yuan. Xiao Tong then started to procure other young girls for him. Most of Tang's victims were early teenagers who did not have proper parental care or were left-behind children. The victims were usually lured by Xiao Tong or other girls to Tang's vehicle parked outside the victims' school or to a hotel outside town. He would either persuade or coerce the girls into having sex with him, but he seldom used force. Every time, he would provide a contraceptive pill and money to the victims.[54]

A survey on sexual violence in Zhechuan county, Henan province, showed that 34 percent of the 62 rapes in the county involved left-behind children. Most victims were aged between five and 12. Offenders were usually acquaintances or neighbours of the victims. 61 percent of offenders were older than 60, and 24 percent aged between 50 and 60. They usually enticed the girls with treats and told them not to tell anyone. Lu, a nine-year old girl, was raped by a neighbour when she was grazing her family's herd of cows. The offender gave her just 1.50 yuan and told her to keep quite. As extended family members usually do not pay enough attention to these girls, many victims were assaulted repeatedly over an extended period. For example, a ten-year old girl named Li was repeatedly raped by four different men from January 2005 to September 2006. She was given money each time, and only when her grandfather asked where she got the money, were the crimes were exposed.[55]

Girls left-behind are often vulnerable to sexual violence because they lack the awareness and ability to protect themselves from sexual predators. In addition, some girls agreed to have sex for the money and the feigned "love" the offenders offered. Many of these tragedies might have been prevented if they were living with their parents.

The Ministry of Public Security and the All China Women's Federation have both stated that migrant children and left-behind children have the highest risk of abduction, and both organizations have pledged to strengthen their protection of left-behind children from accidents and crime, especially from abduction, and sexual offences against young girls.[56][57]    The All China Women's Federation study showed that in addition to the abduction of babies and infants for couples desperate for a child, older children, women and even adult males have been abducted into criminal groups, the sex industry or as forced labourers.[58] Girls from Yunan and Guangxi have been sold to Thailand, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries as sex workers.[59]  There are no accurate statistics on the number of children being kidnapped but reports on child labour suggest the number may be substantial. An investigative report by Southern Metropolis Daily over the 2008 Spring Festival showed that 76 children from the mountainous Liangshan region of Sichuan, the youngest of whom was only seven years old, were cheated or abducted into forced labour in Dongguan.[60]  In another report, a kidnapper in Hunan claimed to "sell" more than 1,000 people a year, although the victims were not necessary left-behind children.[61]  See: From Shanxi to Dongguan, slave labour is still in business.

Asocial and criminal behaviour

The kid's parents are working in the city. I can do nothing even if the kid misbehaves – a grandmother.[62]

In a survey of left-behind children in 2006, only four percent said that their parents regularly talked to them about moral issues in telephone conversations.[63]  Without proper guardians and care, some children developed behavioral problems. As one school teacher explained:

There is a student in my class named Zhang Xiaofei (pseudonym). His parents run an apparel business in Zhengzhou and he lives with his grandparents. His parents come home from time to time but usually only stay for a very short period. Gradually, Zhang got addicted to internet games and showed no interest in school. And he is getting worse. During the last long weekend, he stayed in an illegal internet bar for two whole days and this drove his grandparents crazy.

Zhang's parents feel powerless... They cannot close down their business but neither can they let their son sink any deeper. They believe to the only way they can compensate for their absence is by providing him with more money. As Zhang's teacher, I am also very anxious. I have tried many things but achieved little.[64]

Lacking supervision and positive goals, some children turn to crime. Psychological studies have found that left-behind children had higher hostility scores than the norm.[65]  Some left-behind children blamed their parents for leaving them, or displaced their anger and shame on to others.[66][67]  According to two surveys by Public Security Bureaus in 2004, 80 percent of all cases of juvenile delinquency occurred in rural areas, and most of them involved left-behind children.[68]  Data from several police stations in Fujian showed that about 60 percent of children arrested for public disturbances, pick-pocketing, and theft were left-behind children.[69]  In 2006, 40 percent of the 1,708 detainees at the Hunan Provincial Juvenile Reform Centre were left-behind children.[70]  And according to the head of the research department of the Supreme Court, there has been on average a 13 percent annual increase in youth delinquency since 2000. Moreover, 70 percent of the juvenile delinquents were left-behind children.[71]

In March 2008, a 13-year old left-behind boy was arrested for raping two seven-year old girls in Fujian province. Not interested in studying, he had dropped out of school and was living with his uncle.[72]  In another case, a 15 year-old boy hacked an old lady to death in order to get money for internet games. In Zhejiang, the police arrested a criminal gang nicknamed "The Seven Wolves" which allegedly engaged in multiple kidnappings, rapes, and cases of theft and extortion. Six of the seven gang members were left-behind children. The oldest was only 16 years old.[73]

School studies suffer

 One major hope of migrant parents is to earn enough money to finance their children's education. Indeed, compared with other rural children, left-behind children are more likely to stay in school. According to a national survey, 80 percent of left-behind children aged between 15 and 17 remained in school compared with only 70 percent of all rural children.[74]  Left-behind children usually understand their parents' expectations.[75]  However, with little help, care and supervision, their academic performance is more likely to deteriorate after their parents leave home. According to a survey by the All-China Women's Federation in Qingdao, 45 percent of grandparents had never attended school, and 50 percent only had a primary education. They could hardly be expected to help their grandchildren with their academic school work.[76]  Zhou, the teenage girl interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, said that she used to enjoy her literature class but now found it difficult to keep up.[77]  Surveys in Henan[78]  and Sichuan found that over 80 percent of left-behind children were ranked average or below average in school tests. About half were rated poorly. Some teachers said that as well as doing badly at school, left-behind children were more likely to be disruptive in class and play truant. Some left-behind children countered that teachers did not care about them at all and that they were usually placed at the back of the class.[79]  In Fujian, a major exporter of labour, 29 percent of left-behind children were rated poorly in both in academic performance and discipline.[80]

Although some left-behind children believe studying hard is important, many others do not see the need to study. One survey found that half of the children interviewed wanted to earn big money when they grew up.[81]  More than half wanted to be a migrant worker or go into business after graduating middle school. But only one third of left-behind children saw studying as a path to achieve their goal.[82]  For most rural children, studying beyond middle school level is not a viable or attractive option. A researcher conducting a fieldtrip in Guizhou found slogans like "After graduating middle school, it is time to leave home for work;" "If you don't study hard, make up for it with hard work" and "You can't leave for the city until you have finished middle school" painted on walls everywhere he traveled in the countryside.

Left-behind children need to face more of life's adversities than ordinary children.  Without the care of their parents, some children have developed the ability to take care of themselves, work hard and study hard. However, many others have developed serious behavioral problems. And no matter how effectively these children learn to cope by themselves, extended periods of time away from their parents almost inevitably lead to pain and sorrow.

A song for children left behind

Read the original Chinese lyrics and listen to the song here

It has been so long since someone held my hand
So long since someone tousled my hair
My little hands are cold, my forehead is feverish
I miss you most when I am feeling ill

Papa, mama, I will be good
Papa, mama, don't tire yourselves

On the wall are the paintings of you
Under the pillow are the baby teeth I lost
When I feel wronged, the only one I can talk to is my cat
How many peach blossoms will bloom on the tree behind our house this year?

Oh, mama, I dreamt about your return home
Oh, papa, I dreamt about the touch of your beard
Papa, mama, I will keep my promise. I will work hard in school
Papa, mama, I won't let you down

Endnotes.


  1. "关注留守儿童:转型路上的衍生问题" (Left-behind children: problems of a transitional society), published in Sina Wang on 28 March 2008, available here.
  2. Yang, Qin, (2006). 农村留守儿童教育问题探讨  (Educational problems of left-behind children in rural areas), master thesis, Central China Normal University, PRC.
  3. "Wen: Give 'left-behind' kids more love", China Daily, 29 May 2007, available here.
  4. Duan, Chengyong, & Zhou Fulin (2006). "我国留守儿童状况研究" (A study of left-behind children in China). 人口研究 (Population Research) 28(1):29-36.
  5. Huang, Xiaona, et al. (2005). "农村"留守儿童"—社会不可忽视的弱势人群" (‘Rural left-behind children' – a marginal group that cannot be neglected). 医学与社会 (Medicine and Society) 2(18); Chen, Xuzhong & Wang, Liping (2005). "留守中学生"健康人格的教育探索" (A study of the personality development of left-behind middle school students from the educational perspective) . 沈阳教育学院学报 (Journal of Shenyang College of Education) 1(7); Zhao, Xiaoman & Xian, Zhangxing (2003). " ‘民工潮'下农村家庭教育问题分析' (An analysis of family education in rural areas in the context of the exodus of migrant workers" . 遵义师范学院学报 (Journal of Zunyi College of Education) 4(5): 50-51.
  6. Ye, Jingzhong, et al.(eds.) (2005). 关注留守儿童: 中国中西部农村地区劳动力外出务工对留守儿童的影响 (Left-behind children in rural China: the impact of labour outflow on left-behind children in rural west-central China). 社会科学文献出版社, 2005,9
  7. "报告称6省农村留守儿童占全国52 % 男童多于女童" (Report shows the number of left-behind children in six provinces accounts for 52 % of left-behind children nationwide, more boys are left behind than girls), published on 中国发展门户网 (China Gate Net) on 27 February 2008, available here.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. "他们是当下中国最容易受伤害的人" (They are the most vulnerable group in China), 中国青年报(China Youth Daily), 29 May 2006, available here.
  11. "Sichuan earthquake leaves migrant workers worrying about left-behind children", submitted by David Dollar to the World Bank blog: East Asia & Pacific on the Rise website, 25 May 2008, available here.
  12. "农村留守儿童问题调查:谁来托起留守的 ‘太阳'"(A survey on left-behind children in rural areas: Who is responsible for holding up the "sun" ), 人民日报 (People's Daily), 2 June 2006, available here.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Lu, S.Z. & Lu, D.P. (2006). " ‘留守儿童' 状况调查" (An investigation into ‘left-behind children'). In Yang, Dongping (ed.). 2005: 中国教育发展报告 (The Development report of China's education 2005). Social Sciences Academic Press (China), p.329.
  15. "农村留守儿童问题调查:谁来托起留守的 ‘太阳'"(A survey on left-behind children in rural areas: Who is responsible for holding up the "sun" ), 人民日报(People's Daily), 2 June 2006, available here.
  16. China Youth Research Center, 中国未成年人数据手册 (China's Children and Juveniles Statistical Handbook). Beijing: Science Press, p.241.
  17. Hunan Provincial Youth League (2006). 湖南农村留守儿童调查报告 (A survey report on left-behind children in Hunan).
  18. "农村留守儿童约有1000万 四成不知父母打啥工" (There are about 10 million left-behind children, four tenths do not know what their parents do for a living), published on the Chinese government website on 26 August 2005, available here .
  19. Wang, Daochun (2006). 农村留守儿童犯罪原因及预防对策初议 (The causes of and preventive measures for juvenile delinquency in left-behind children in rural China). 北京青年政治学院学报 (Journal of Beijing youth politics college). 15(3): 27-33.
  20. "留守儿童来信:爸爸我不恨你我把思念写进日记" (Letters from left-behind children: Father I don't hate you, I will write all my thoughts of you in my diary) , 半月谈 (Fortnightly Chats), 27 September 2007, available here.
  21. Lu, Shaoqing, 《农村留守儿童:生活与心理的双重冲突》(Left-behind children: social and psychological conflicts). 中国发展观察 (China Development Review), 13 September 2005, available here.
  22. "农村留守儿童约有1000万 四成不知父母打啥工"(There are about 10 million left-behind children, four tenths do not know what their parents do for a living), published on the Chinese government website on 26 August 2005, available here.
  23. "Lu, Shizheng (et all.) "未成年人德育大家谈:预防农村留守儿童道德滑坡" (Let's talk about the social values of minors: Preventing the moral deterioration of left-behind children in rural areas),  人民日报 (People's Daily), 17 January 2006, available here.
  24. Chao, L. "Children are left behind in China", The Wall Street Journal, 24 January 2007, available here.
  25. Guangdong Yunfu Youth League and the Guangdong Youth Research Centre (2007). 探索建立农村留守少年儿童帮助机制 (Exploring the establishment of an assistance mechanism for left-behind children). Hong Kong: Zhongguo Baihua Chubanshe, pp. 49-50.
  26. "專家稱 ‘留守儿童' 问题严重 可能将危及农村的未来" (Expert claims the problem of left-behind children is so serious it might endanger the future of rural China), 中國青年報 (China Youth Daily)  3 June 2008, available at here.
  27. China Youth Research Center, 中国未成年人数据手册 (China's Children and Juveniles Statistical Handbook). Beijing: Science Press, p.241.
  28. "A survey report by the All-China Women's Federation of Zhumei and Linyi counties in Shandong province in 2006". Quoted in中国未成年人数据手册 (China's Children and Juveniles Statistical Handbook), p. 241.
  29. "谁来关心全国两千万农村留守儿童?"(Who cares about China's 20 million left-behind children?), published in Xinhua Wang on27 September 2007, available here.
  30. "四川省广安市农村留守儿童现状调查" (A survey of the left-behind children in Guang'an city, Sichuan province), published on 30 April 2006 by the Guang'an municipal Party. Quoted in中国未成年人数据手册 (China's Children and Juveniles Statistical Handbook), p. 241.
  31. Ibid.
  32. China Youth Research Center, 中国未成年人数据手册 (China's Children and Juveniles Statistical Handbook). Beijing: Science Press, p. 244.
  33. "專家稱 ‘留守儿童' 问题严重 可能将危及农村的未来" (Expert claims the problem of left-behind children is so serious it might endanger the future of rural China), 中國青年報 (China Youth Daily)  3 June 2008, available here.
  34. Hunan Provincial Youth League (2006). 湖南农村留守儿童调查报告 (A survey report on left-behind children in Hunan)
  35. "农村留守儿童问题调查:谁来托起留守的 ‘太阳'"(A survey on left-behind children in rural areas: Who is responsible for holding up the "sun" ), 人民日报 (People's Daily), 2 June 2006, available here.
  36. China Youth Research Center, 中国未成年人数据手册 (China's Children and Juveniles Statistical Handbook). Beijing: Science Press, p. 244.
  37. Wang, Dongyu & Lin, Hong (2003). "福建省284名中學"留守孩"的心理健康狀況" (The psychological health of 284 Fujain secondary school children left behind by their parents). 中國學校衛生 (Journal of Chinese School Health) 5:102-103.
  38. China Youth Research Center, 中国未成年人数据手册 (China's Children and Juveniles Statistical Handbook). Beijing: Science Press, p. 241.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Lu, Zhongjing (2006). 农村 ‘留守子女' 人格发展探析 (An exploratory analysis of personality development of ‘left-behind children' in rural areas). Master thesis, Nanjing Normal University.
  41. Wang, Liangfeng, Zhang, Shunfeng, & Sun, Yehuang (2006). 农村留守儿童孤独感现状研究 (A study of the sense of loneliness in left-behind children in rural areas). 中国行为医学科学 (Chinese journal of behavioral medical science) 15(7):639-640.
  42. Zhou, Congkui, Sun, Xiaojun, Liu, Ya, & Zhou, Dongming (2005). "农村留守儿童心理发展与教育问题" (The psychological development and education problems of children left behind in rural areas). 北京师范大学学报 (社会科学版) (Journal of Beijing Normal University. Social Sciences Edition) 1:72-80.
  43. "农村留守儿童家庭教育的调查研究报告" (A survey study of moral education of rural left-behind children). Quoted in中国未成年人数据手册 (China's Children and Juveniles Statistical Handbook), p. 242.
  44. "关注农村 ‘留守儿童'综合症"  (Don't ignore rural "left-behind children" syndrome).  扬子晚报 (Yangzi Evening News), 25 August 2005, available here.
  45. "农村"留守儿童"三姐妹 7年内相继伤残" ("Left-behind children" - Three little sisters seriously injured over a seven year period), published in 新华网 (New China Net) on 20 November 2005.
  46. "安徽12岁留守儿童自杀" (A 12 year-old left-behind boy in Anhui commits suicide), published in 中国新闻周刊 (China Newsweek) on 18 March 2008, available here.
  47. Hesketh, T., Ding, Q.J. & Jenkins, R. (2002). "Suicidal ideation in Chinese adolescents." Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 37:230-235.
  48. Ma, Lang; Zhang, Jianxin, & Wei, Siqiong (2003). "中学生自杀意念与受欺侮经历现状及相关关系" (The correlation between suicidal ideation and bullying among secondary school students). 中國學校衛生 (Journal of Chinese School Health) 5:445-446.
  49. Zhao, Kefu; Fang, Xue-hui; Su, Hong, He, Li; Chen, Juan; Chen, Mingchun; & Ye, Dongqing (2007).  "安徽省留守儿童意外伤害的流行特征及其影响因素" (The epidemiological characteristics of unintentional injuries among children left behind in Anhui province). 疾病控制杂志  (Journal of disease control and prevention) 11(3):277-279.
  50. "农村"留守儿童"三姐妹 7年内相继伤残" ("Left-behind children" - Three little sisters seriously injured over a seven year period), published in 新华网 (New China Net) on 20 November 2005.
  51. "專家稱 ‘留守儿童' 问题严重 可能将危及农村的未来" (Expert claims the problem of left-behind children is so serious that it might endanger the future of rural China), 中國青年報 (China Youth Daily)  3 June 2008, available here.
  52. "抗震救災英雄少年張吉萬:背妹12小時安全轉移" (A young hero of the earthquake: Zhang Jiwan carries his little sister for 12 hours to safety). 山西晚報 (Shanxi Evening News), 13 June 2008, available at  http://big5.cri.cn/gate/big5/gb.cri.cn/18824/2008/06/13/342@2098094.htm.
  53. "色魔黑手伸向留守儿童 多名幼女遭蹂躏" (The black hand of the sex predator has reached left-behind children, young girls are sexually abused), published in Sichuan Online on 7 July 2006, available here.
  54. "17名幼女被买处幕后:农村留守儿童安全存隐患" (The truth behind the theft of 17 young girls' virginity: left-behind children are at risk). 南方都市报 (Southern Metropolis Daily), 13 September 2007 available here.
  55. Su, Guojun & Wang, Yuxin (2006). "警惕农村留守女孩性监护缺位" (The alarming absence of guardians to protect left-behind girls in rural areas from sex predators) . 中国妇女报 (China's women's news), 18 December 2006, available here.
  56. "公安部將嚴厲打擊侵害農村留守流動兒童犯罪活動" (Ministry of Public Security vows to combat crimes against left-behind children), published in the official website of the Chinese government on 27 May 2007, available here.
  57. "全國婦聯:被拐賣兒童中農村留守兒童居第二位" (The All-China Women's Federation: Left-behind children are the second most at-risk group of kidnapping), published in中國網 (China Net) on 27 February 2008, available here.
  58. Ibid.
  59. "留守儿童面临被拐卖风险" (Left-behind children face the risk of kidnap), published on华夏经纬网 (Huaxia Net) on 4 September 2007, available here.
  60. "凉山童工" (Child Labour from Liangshan). 南方都市报 (Southern Metropolis Daily), 28 April 2008, available here.
  61. "河南女人贩 每年贩卖上千名包身工" (A labour trafficker from Henan sells around a thousand slave labourers each year), China Central Television, republished in Xinhua Wang 11 August 2006, available here.
  62. "17名幼女被买处幕后:农村留守儿童安全存隐患" (The truth behind the theft of 17 young girls' virginity: left-behind children are at risk). 南方都市报 (Southern Metropolis Daily), 13 September 2007 available here.
  63. "农村留守儿童问题调查:谁来托起留守的 ‘太阳'"(A survey on left-behind children in rural areas: Who is responsible for holding up the "sun" ), 人民日报(People's Daily), 2 June 2006, available here.
  64. "Lu, Shizheng (et all.) "未成年人德育大家谈:预防农村留守儿童道德滑坡" (Let's talk about the social values of minors: Preventing the moral deterioration of left-behind children in rural areas),  人民日报 (People's Daily), 17 January 2006, available here.
  65. "留守儿童心理健康的调查及干预" (Measures to improve the psychological health of left-behind children). Published in 石泉县关注留守儿童网 (Left-behind children website of Shiquang county) on 25 October 2007 available here.
  66. "留守儿童,不容忽视的教育问题" (Left-behind children: An educational problem that cannot be neglected) by Gong, Yongji. Published in旬阳宣传网 (Xunyang government website) on 15 July 2008, available here.
  67. Zheng, Zhe (2006). "农村留守儿童心理问题及对策探究" (An exploratory study on and the relevant responses to the psychological development of left-behind children in rural areas. 中小学心理健康教育(Psychological health education in primary and secondary schools) 6, available on CNKI database at <http://kbs.cnki.net/Forums/8392/ShowPost.aspx>.
  68. Wang, Daochun (2006). 农村留守儿童犯罪原因及预防对策初议 (The causes of and preventive measures for juvenile delinquency in left-behind children in rural China). 北京青年政治学院学报 (Journal of Beijing youth politics college) 15(3): 27-33.
  69. Ibid
  70. "專家稱 ‘留守儿童' 问题严重 可能将危及农村的未来" (Expert claims the problem of left-behind children is so serious that it might endanger the future of rural China), 中國青年報 (China Youth Daily)  3 June 2008, available here.
  71. "中国未成年犯罪年升一成三 两千万留守儿童存忧 " (Juvenile delinquency increases by 13 percent annually , 20 million left-behind children at risk), published in 中国发展门户网 (China gate) on 21 September 2007, available here.
  72. "警方呼吁加强农村留守儿童家庭和心理健康教育" (Police call for the strengthening of the family and better psychological health education of left-behind children in rural areas), published on 人民网 (People Net) on 24 March 2008, available here.
  73. "專家稱 ‘留守儿童' 问题严重 可能将危及农村的未来" (Expert claims the problem of left-behind children is so serious that it might endanger the future of rural China), 中國青年報 (China Youth Daily)  3 June 2008, available here.
  74. "报告称6省农村留守儿童占全国52 %, 男童多于女童" (Report shows the number of left-behind children in six provinces accounts for 52 % of left-behind children nationwide, more boys are left behind than girls), published on 中国发展门户网 (China Gate Net) on 27 February 2008, available here.
  75. "农村留守儿童家庭教育的调查研究报告" (A study of family education in rural left-behind children). Quoted in中国未成年人数据手册 (China's Children and Juveniles Statistical Handbook), p. 242.
  76. "青岛市农村留守儿童状况调查报告" (A survey report on left-behind children in Qingdao). 半岛都市报 (Peninsula City Daily), 28 March 2007. Quoted in中国未成年人数据手册 (China's Children and Juveniles Statistical Handbook). Beijing: Science Press, p. 241.
  77. Chao, L. "Children are left behind in China", The Wall Street Journal, 24 January, 2007, available here.
  78. "农村留守子女问题之社会和政策因素简析--基于湖北京山县的调查" (A brief analysis of the social and political causes of left-behind children in rural areas – Based on an investigation in Jingshan county, Hubei province), published in中华硕博网  (China-B. Com) on 3 May 2008, available here.
  79. "他们是当下中国最容易受伤害的人" (They are the most vulnerable group in China), 中国青年报(China Youth Daily), 29 May 2006, available here.
  80. "福建为农村留守儿童招募万名'爱心妈妈'" (Fujian recruits 10,000 ‘caring mothers' for left-behind children) 新华网 (New China Net), 9 May 2007, available here.
  81. China Youth Research Center, 中国未成年人数据手册 (China's Children and Juveniles Statistical Handbook). Beijing: Science Press, p.241.
  82. "他们是当下中国最容易受伤害的人" (They are the most vulnerable group in China), 中国青年报(China Youth Daily), 29 May 2006, available here.

Under the same blue sky? Rural migrant children in urban China

 

When Premier Wan Jiabao visited a school for migrant children in Beijing in 2003, he wrote on the blackboard: 同在蓝天下, 共同成长进步 (Under the same blue sky, grow up and progress together). Sadly, the same blue sky is just about the only thing the children of migrant workers (liudong ertong 流动儿童) do share with urban children. Low household income combined with the household registration (hukou 户口) system means they are marginalized and deprived of equal access to education, social and medical welfare and the right to participate in urban life.

Despite immense hardships, more and more migrant workers are keeping their children with them in the cities rather than leaving them behind in the countryside. Recent studies have shown that whole family units now account for about a quarter of the entire migrant population. One-third of all migrants say they have no plans to leave the city, suggesting that in future a higher number of children of migrant workers will be brought up in urban areas. Indeed, in Henan province, the number of migrant children has already increased by 25 percent annually since 2000.

However, because many migrant workers are not registered, children under 16 years old are not legally required to register as temporary residents, and only a small proportion of migrant children born in urban areas have their births registered, it is very difficult to accurately gauge the number of migrant children in China’s cities today. , The most commonly cited estimate is based on the 2000 census, which indicated that 19 percent of the migrant population were below 18 years of age, amounting to 19.8 million children, or six percent of all children in China. Some 11.2 million migrant children were below 15 years of age. Overall, 51 percent of migrant children were boys but more girls were found in the 16 to 17 year age bracket, indicating a higher demand of factories for young female workers. ,
The highest concentrations of migrant children were in Guangdong, Anhui, Henan and Sichuan, which, together with Hunan, Hubei, Shandong and Jiangsu, accounted for 49 percent of migrant children in China (See map of the distribution of migrant children).
The 2000 census showed that about 72 percent of migrant children were living in a family environment (56.5 percent with their parents; 7.5 percent with their grandparents and about 6 percent with other family members). The younger the child, the higher the likelihood they were living within the family. About 80 percent of those under 15 years of age were living with their parents, 12 percent with grandparents and six percent with other relatives. This pattern differs from that of left-behind children in which a lower proportion of younger children were living with their parents. The 28 percent of migrant children living outside the family were predominantly older children who had entered the workforce themselves and were living in dormitories or were sharing accommodation with their co-workers.

Far from being a “stranger in the city,” most migrant children have lived in urban areas for a large part of their lives. The 2000 census estimated that 29.9 percent of migrant children were born in cities. Among those who were not, 30 percent had been living there for five years or more, and 75 percent for two years or more. According to a survey of migrant children in Beijing by the China Youth Research Centre in 2006, 10.4 percent of migrant children in the third year of primary school to the third year of middle school were born in Beijing, 32.8 percent had been in Beijing for five years or more, 28 percent between two and five years, and 23.9 percent between one half and two years. Only 4.9 percent had been in Beijing for less than half a year.

Despite being long-term residents of the city, these children are nevertheless still treated as outsiders. Their rights to medical care, education and social participation are limited, leading to a higher incidence of physical and psychological health problems, and a greater vulnerability to crime.

Exclusion from the healthcare system

With the development of the private economy and privatization of most state-owned enterprises, the vast majority of Chinese citizens now have to bear their own medical expenses. , The state has reduced public funding for healthcare and encouraged public health institutions to see themselves as independent economic entities operating on a fee-for-service basis. As a result, in the early 2000s, out-of-pocket expenditure accounted for more than 60 percent of total health spending in China, compared with less than 20 percent in Japan. The government is trying to establish a health insurance system that covers the whole population but at present most medical expenses, ranging from out-patient consultations to major surgery, are borne by users. Soaring medical expenses have become the most pressing concern for ordinary Chinese citizens, concerns summed up in the now commonly used phrase kanbingnan kanbinggui 看病难,看病贵 (Seeing a doctor is both difficult and expensive). A simple influenza vaccination can easily cost about 200 yuan, equivalent to a quarter of the minimum wage in Guangzhou. Moreover, many hospitals conduct unnecessary and expensive tests in order to increase revenue.

A migrant worker who took her son to a hospital in Changsha told an online discussion:

My son has had a mild fever for the last few days. Today I took him to the provincial health centre for women and children. After I paid six yuan registration fee, I went up to the fourth floor to see the doctor. The doctor said my son had tonsillitis. He tested his blood … and then put him on the intravenous drip and [conducted other tests]…

Her son was given 12 days of medicine for an oral inflammation, four shots and one intravenous injection, totaling 287 yuan.

In mid 2007, a family sued a hospital in Ningbo for malpractice claiming that the hospital required doctors to prescribe unnecessary medicine to patients in order to earn more money. The expert witness for the plaintiff pointed out that the doctor must have been aware the patient was suffering from common influenza but conducted so many unnecessary tests that the patient died of allergic shock.

Because most migrants cannot afford exorbitant medical fees and their children are not covered by state-sponsored health insurance schemes, migrant children are probably most vulnerable to accident and disease.

Maternal care

China has made a remarkable effort to reduce maternal deaths over the last two decades. In 1991, the maternal mortality rate was 80 per 100,000 live births but by 2004 that figure had fallen to only 48 per 100,000. , In 2001, The Implementing Regulations for the PRC’s Maternal and Infant Health Care Law required local governments to establish neonatal and maternal healthcare systems. Pregnant mothers were encouraged to join healthcare plans and community heathcare teams were set up to educate parents and to inspect nurseries.

In 2005, cities such as Beijing, Tianjin and Chongqing initiated enterprise-based maternal insurance systems that covered prenatal and neonatal health. However, many of these insurance policies target local residents, and the majority of female migrant workers are not able to benefit from them.

Theoretically, the maternal and child healthcare system is open to the migrant population. However, a routine delivery in coastal cities costs on average about 3,000 yuan, , and very few migrant women have prenatal checkups. , On the other hand, some gynaecopathy services that provide free examinations for local women, exclude migrant workers.

A study in Beijing in 2006 found that only 30 percent of migrant women had prenatal examinations. Whilst locals usually had their first checkup a month after conception, most migrant workers had their first examination in the 28th week or later, and usually only to have an ultra-sound examination. Similarly, all local mothers registered with the after-delivery heathcare schemes. However, migrant workers only came back when they had complications. A survey of more than 1,200 Dongguan children at the end of 2004 found that only 64 percent of migrant children were delivered in regular hospitals, compared with all local children.

A study on the health of pregnant migrant workers in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, in 2005 explained:

Migrant workers earned between 500 and 800 yuan a month. Registration and initial check-up costs came to between 100 and 150 yuan. The cost for delivery in a street-level health clinic was 600 to 800 yuan; in a regular hospital it was 1,500 to 2,000 yuan. Medical expense for a complicated delivery came to about 4,000 yuan. Most migrant women, therefore, do not have any neonatal examinations and opt for a home delivery by unlicensed midwives.

As a result, migrant women had a much higher maternal death rate than local women. Over 90 percent of difficult births that required subsequent hospitalization or surgery in Yiwu in 2003 resulted from sub-standard home deliveries. In Beijing, the maternal death rate of the migrant population between 1998 and 2002 was 52.2 per 100,000, three times higher than in the local population. In Guangzhou, the maternal death of migrant workers was double that of locals. In one district in the Pearl River Delta which had 850,000 permanent residents and nearly 1,000,000 migrant workers, almost 90 percent of maternal deaths between 1995 and 2005 were of migrant workers.

Child care

China has strict guidelines on the monitoring of children’s health up to the age of seven. Intensive monitoring and home visits are accorded to infants younger than 28 days. Children under one year old also need to undergo a thorough examination in the first, second, fourth, sixth, ninth, and twelfth months. Children aged between one and three years have to get half-yearly checkups and children aged between three and seven need to undergo yearly checkups. , , However, most migrant children do not participate in these programmes because of financial difficulties. Indeed, an official from the All China Women’s Federation said that even if schools arranged check-ups, for students, the parents of migrant children might refuse to take part because of the cost.

A 2004 survey in Dongguan found that only 55 percent of migrant children joined healthcare programmes compared with 100 percent of locals. When migrant children were sick, 89 percent would seek medical care compared with 100 percent of local children. And among those who sought medical advice, 60 percent went to unlicensed clinics. A survey of migrant children under seven years old in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, found that 81 percent had never had a medical checkup, and another 15 percent only one. About 84 percent of parents said they were unaware of the importance of regular physical examination.

A high level of preventable disease and death

A lack of regular checkups means treatable illnesses become more serious and complicated. In the spring of 2008, CCTV reported on the case of a premature and seriously ill infant who became progressively worse because his parents could not afford the medical bills. Moreover, the child’s mother, Xiaomin, was a 15-year-old. Originally from Sichuan province, she had travelled to Guangzhou and Beijing to work when she was 13 years old. She gave birth in a rented home, assisted only by her mother.

Migrant children usually have a lower birth weight and a significantly higher proportion of congenital illnesses. , , In 2007, many provinces launched campaigns to provide free medical examinations for migrant children. At these examinations it was discovered that although some children suffered from serious health problems, they had never once sought medical treatment. For example, in Shijiazhuang, a girl in her final year of primary school had never had a medical checkup despite being mentally retarded, and having serious eye problems. In a free medical checkup campaign in Wuxi in 2007, only 16 percent of 1,020 migrant children were free from disease. , Nine percent of migrant children in Wuxi suffered from anaemia compared with only one percent of the overall population. A quarter of all migrant children were classified as physically weak, compared with only ten percent of the general population. None of the physically weak migrant children was receiving specialist care whilst almost all of the local children were.

Some medical experts have attributed the high prevalence of illness among migrant children to their poor living conditions and a lack of awareness of personal hygiene. However, the primary factor contributing to poor health remains low family income.

A grandmother attends to her 15-month-old grandchild, who was suffering from kidney stones allegedly caused by tainted milk powder, in a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province. (AP Photo) ("China finds more tainted dairy products" Sept 16, 2008)

In September 2008, at least four children died from kidney failure and 13,000 more were hospitalized because of the Chinese milk industry’s systematic and widespread use of the banned chemical melamine to artificially inflate protein level readings in milk products. As most migrant workers could not afford imported baby milk powder, they became one of the most severely affected groups. As the South China Morning Post reported:

In Shenzhen, 19 children have been diagnosed with kidney stones and their parents, most of them migrant workers from remote villages, said they were considering using rice porridge as a substitute. A tin of imported milk powder costs about 200 yuan (HK$227) in Shenzhen – one-fifth of the city's statutory minimum monthly wage. Although the Ministry of Health has promised to give free medical treatment to all children diagnosed with kidney stones, Ms Feng said she had already paid at least 3,000 yuan in medical bills since her baby was admitted to hospital.

The one bright spot for migrant children is the fact that local governments are now more willing to provide free vaccinations. Since 2005, Guangzhou, and many other cities, have provided free vaccinations for tuberculosis, polio, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, hepatitis B and encephalitis to all children. In 2008, the Beijing Health Bureau issued a notice that all migrant children should be able to receive 15 vaccinations without charge. And in 2008, the Yantai government emphasized that all children, no matter how long they had been or would be in Yantai, were eligible for free vaccinations.

Despite a fall in China’s overall mortality rate of children under five years old from 61 per 1,000 children in 1991 to 27 per 1,000 in 2005, the mortality rate of migrant children is much higher than that of their urban counterparts. A study on the causes of death of children under five in Guangdong found that the rate of migrant children dying of infectious and parasitic diseases was 31 per 100,000 compared with only 2 per 100,000 for local infants. The death rate of migrant infants because of congenital malformations and deformations was more than five times that of local infants. Among eight preventable deaths of young children, migrant children had significantly higher death rates in all of eight categories. For example, only 73 per 100,000 local infants died of neonatal asphyxia compared with 411 migrant infants.

Discrimination in the education system

The 2006 Compulsory Education Law of the PRC (revised 29 June 2006) mandates nine years of education for all children regardless of gender, race, religious belief and material wealth. However, the government’s allocation of funding for education is based on the number of school age children of local residents – and as such local governments have no absolute obligation to educate migrant children. Despite numerous attempts to make urban education more accessible, it can still be incredibly difficult and prohibitively expensive for migrant workers to find decent schools for their children. A national survey in the mid-2000s showed that average educational expenditure for migrant children was 2,450 yuan per head per year, accounting for about 20 percent of total family income, , with the cost in some coastal cities being even higher. In Shenzhen, migrant children have to pay on average three times as much as local students in state primary schools. ,

Article 11 of the Compulsory Education Law stipulates that children should attend school when they reach six years of age, although enrollment can, in difficult circumstances, be deferred until the age of seven. However, about half of all migrant children enrolled in school one or even two years after the usual admittance age, and about six percent of all migrant children have never attended school.

The China National Institute for Educational Research has shown that migrant children tend to have a high drop out rate, low attendance rates and a low graduation rate. , The attendance rate of migrant children in Beijing in 1995 was only 12.5 percent, and although this has improved to nearly 90 percent over the last decade, the attendance rate of migrant children is still well below that of their urban counterparts. According to a survey of migrant children in the Pearl River Delta, the attendance rate of migrant children in primary schools was 91.7 percent compared with 99.8 percent of urban local children. And it dropped to just 75 percent in middle schools (compared with 99.9 percent of urban local children).

In 2005, China National Radio (CNR) interviewed two migrant workers, both of whom had to take their children out of school because of exorbitant costs. Mr Shi moved to Shenyang, the provincial capital of Liaoning in 2003, and found work as a delivery driver. He worked every day from dawn to dusk to provide for his wife who could not work because of health problems, and their two children. The boy attended a local state-run primary school but had to pay 200 yuan more than local students each semester. The daughter dropped out after graduating from primary school because of the increased financial burden. Likewise, in the central city of Hefei, CNR interviewed Mr Zhang, who had taken his daughter out of a state-run primary school because he could not afford the school fees. He earned about 30 yuan a day working on construction sites, and would have had to pay several thousand yuan each year for his eight-year-old son to study at a city centre primary school.

The cost of getting more migrant children into state schools

In an attempt to get more migrant children into state schools, in the mid-1990s, the central government allowed urban schools to collect fees that would cover the cost of providing additional resources. However these fees placed an intolerable burden on migrant workers, most of whom earned less than their urban counterparts, and many of whom, as we have seen from the above two examples, had more than one child to support. ,

The 1996 (Trial) Measures for the Schooling of Children and Young People in the Migrant Population, and the 1998 Provisional Measures for the Schooling of Migrant Children and Young People urged municipalities to accept migrant children aged between six and 14 to study in full time state-run and privately run schools under the status of temporary students. However, it also stressed that the main responsibility for education should remain with the out-flowing areas. Only children who did not have a guardian in their place of permanent residence could study in other localities. As migrant children are not included in the local budgetary educational expenditure, schools were allowed to collect temporary student fees (jie du fei借读费), within limits set by the local government, to cover their expenses. However, the government limits rarely covered the additional costs incurred by schools. As a result many urban schools were extremely reluctant to admit migrant children. For example, the annual cost for a primary school student in Nanjing in 2003 was 1,500 yuan. However, the Nanjing municipal government set a ceiling of 480 yuan for temporary student fees. In other words, to recruit one migrant student, the school would have to pay about 1,000 yuan. Very often, schools would collect additional fees to make up the shortfall. In 1999, in addition to the 300 to 400 yuan in miscellaneous fees paid by the local students each term in Beijing, migrant parents had to pay a 480-yuan temporary student fee, a 2,000-yuan education compensation payment (教育补偿费, jiaoyu buchang fei) and a one-off 1,000-yuan school selection fee (择校费, ze xiao fei). Prestigious state schools can demand over 10,000 yuan, and some as high as 230,000 yuan in school selection fees from parents.

The 2001 Decision of the State Council on the Development of Elementary Education and the 2003 Decision of the State Council on Further Strengthening Rural Education switched the responsibility for providing education to migrant children from the out-flowing rural areas to the receiving cities, with the focus on education within the state school system. The 2003 Decision stated that local governments should provide migrant children with the same rights as local students, and migrant students should not pay more than local students in order to receive a proper education. Furthermore, in order to curb the malpractice of arbitrary fee collection, the central government in 2004, implemented a nationwide “one-fee system,” under which schools could only collect miscellaneous fees under one title and only once a semester.

In the early 2000s, local governments started to abolish temporary student fees and to inject more money into the state school system in order to accommodate migrant children. In 2003, the Hefei municipal government designated 29 schools for migrant children and invested 20 million yuan to improve teaching facilities; and by 2005, the number of designated schools had increased to 32. Beijing and Shanghai had accepted 270,000 and 400,000 migrant students respectively by 2006, bringing migrant student attendance rates (when private schools were included) to about 90 percent. By 2008, the Henan government had invested 18 million yuan to upgrade 24 primary and secondary schools, and had accommodated 83 percent of migrant children in state-run schools. In the mid-2000s, a national survey found that more than 70 percent of children were able to study in state-run schools. ,

However, these policies put tremendous pressure on local governments with a high concentration of migrant workers. After the Zhengzhou municipal government abolished temporary student fees in 2006, the average class size in one district increased in one year to 72 students, and in some schools the class size exceeded 100. It was estimated that in the five years after 2006, Zhengzhou would have a shortfall of 74 primary and secondary schools. Yet, the city’s budgetary provision for education was still below three percent of the GDP. In 2008, there were 430,000 migrant children in Guangzhou in 2008, about two-thirds of whom were studying in privately-run schools. In order to reach its target of accommodating at least 50 percent of migrant children in state-run schools, it was estimated that the Guangzhou government would need to raise 137 million yuan, with the number of migrant children increasing all the time. The 2003 Decision states that local governments should provide assistance to privately-run schools. However, by 2004, only eight out of 109 privately-run schools in Guangzhou had obtained governmental subsidies, ranging from just a few hundred yuan to at most 450,000 yuan.

Resistance to reforms

In order to minimize the potential influx of migrant children, many local governments, especially in coastal cities, delayed the implementation of, or limited the number of children eligible to benefit from central government policies designed to make education more accessible. Collection of assorted fees remains commonplace, and even now, cities such as Xiamen , Shanghai and Guangzhou apply strict criteria for temporary student fee waivers. For example, Guangzhou abolished temporary student fees in 2006, but restricted the benefits to the children of overseas Chinese, revolutionary martyrs, legally adopted orphans, etc. Only in 2008 did Guangzhou lift restrictions to allow children whose parents had obtained temporary residence for three years, to receive free education in the state system. Migrant children whose parents had made great contributions to Guangzhou, and had paid higher taxes, would be considered more favorably, and children of permanent residents would be given priority. Shanghai basically only allows migrant children whose parents have obtained a hukou through the talents and investment scheme (blue stamp hukou) or if either parent is a permanent resident of Shanghai, to enjoy the same rights as local students. Tangxia township in Dongguan abolished temporary student fees but limited the policy to migrant workers who had been working in Tangxia for five years. In some cities only children born within the state family planning quota were eligible. In September 2007, Shanghai’s Huangpu district announced that only children who: 1) were under 16 years of age; 2) were the only child in the family; 3) had no guardian in their place of permanent residence, and 4) whose parents had a temporary hukou for at least one year, would be eligible for a temporary student fee waiver.

In order to qualify for fee waivers, parents need to provide numerous documents, including a temporary hukou certificate, labour contract, property deed, rental agreement, child vaccination certificates, etc. However, many migrant workers are not registered because of the complicated procedures and high cost of the process (See Migrant Workers in China). Similarly, few migrant children are registered with the local governments. In Changzhou, a city in the Yangtze Delta, where migrants comprise more than one-third of the overall population, only 20 percent of migrant children benefited from more inclusive educational policies.

Even those migrant workers who had been resident in their host cities for many years still encountered problems getting their children into decent state schools.

Mr Zhang came to Guangdong from Hunan 10 years ago and now earns 1,800 yuan a month as a manager. As he was not very confident of the academic standard of schools for migrant children, he decided to send his son to a state-run school. One day, Mr Zhang went to a nearby primary school to enquire about the admission procedures.

A teacher told him, “We only have a few migrant students here, and the tuition fee is high.” He was then asked to present a temporary student certificate, a local property deed or a government approved rental agreement before he could officially apply. When the school authority realized that he might have difficulties in getting these documents, they suggested he take his son back to his hometown.

But Mr Zhang did not give up and went to a school near his work place. A notice at the entrance said: “to apply for admittance, a student should have the following documents: temporary student card, identity card, household registration card, and work permit of the parents. Local students should pay 350 yuan in advance, and migrant children 470 yuan. Admission is based on merit...” …A school employee specifically told him that they set a stricter admission standard in order to control the number of migrant students.

China's educational system is highly competitive and examination oriented. Schools are desperate to maintain their academic standards because prestigious schools can demand higher selection fees and donations. As migrant children are usually seen as academically inferior, they are most commonly assigned to mediocre or poor quality schools, and denied access to schools of a higher standard.

Many older privately-run schools for migrant children were housed in converted factories that did not meet even basic safety standards and did not have a qualified teaching staff. These schools paid poorly and as such often had a high staff turnover; a class could have as many as seven different teachers in one semester. The poor infrastructure and teaching conditions of these schools were reflected in the students' academic performance. A survey of privately-run schools in Guangzhou showed that only 27 percent of students in migrant schools reached the required academic standard. The proportion of students who performed well ranged from 42 percent to 64 percent in schools for migrant children compared with 71 percent to 91 percent in state-run schools.

Many privately-run schools nowadays do offer good facilities and dedicated teaching staff (see documentary on migrant children school in Shanghai) but there are many others more interested in profit than education, and these schools can become a breeding ground for tension and violence, as one head teacher revealed:

There is one school that recruits students all year round. Every day, they go to the markets, sieve through streets and alleys, give away leaflets to recruit students… As long as you pay, you are able to study in this school… the Education Bureau set the qualifying score for taking the university entrance examination at 250 marks. There are 14 students in this school who do not meet this standard. Not only can they not take the national university entrance examination, they will not even be given a high school graduation certificate. But parents are not aware of it, and they are still paying ten to twenty thousand yuan a year to the school…This school also fakes the result of their students… If only one student gets a good grade, other students in the class will be given good marks… Students form many gangs in school. Bullying, fighting and extortion are common among students…

In the state sector, fees have increased sharply over the last few years. In 2006, the average annual fees for a student in a regular state-run school in Guangzhou amounted to 3,117 yuan. However, one state-run primary school in a migrant area of Guangzhou asked for temporary student fees of 30,000 yuan, a ten-fold increase over the previous year. According to the Survey on the cost of raising a child in China published in 2005, a primary school student in Shanghai had to pay as much as 5,000 yuan, and a middle school student 12,000 yuan in various fees every year, in addition to the one-off payment of a school selection fee. , Between 2003 and 2005, the school selection fee in Guangzhou provincial grade middle schools was between 30,000 and 60,000 yuan. Local governments continue to issue circulars criticizing schools that abolish tuition fees, while collecting fees under other names such as nutrition fee, pure water fee, uniform fee, and fees for supplementary classes and extra circular activities.

A final insurmountable hurdle

Fees for high school and university are even higher than for middle school and as a result it is estimated that only one third of migrant children who graduate from middle school go onto high school, compared with 95 percent of urban children. , A survey of migrant children in nine cities by the National Bureau of Statistics and the State Council's National Working Committee on Children and Women, showed that while the overall attendance rate of migrant children aged between seven and 17 years was 90 percent, only 40 percent of migrant children aged between 16 and 17 years were in school. Moreover, it is estimated that 78 percent of parents of migrant children did not attend high school or beyond, As such they are unlikely to be able to help their children with the rigorous academic school work required for higher education, nor can they afford supplementary classes for their children.

And even if migrant worker families can afford the additional costs of higher education, and their children do well enough at school to take the university entrance examination, they still face another almost insurmountable barrier. According to the 2008 Working Regulations for the Enrollment of Regular High School Students, all candidates have to take the university entrance examination in their place of permanent residence. As such, most students are forced to return home to study in high school. However, as different school districts have different syllabuses, migrant children are at a distinctive disadvantage. , Many students who return home rapidly get disillusioned, as the head of the Shanghai Joint Working Committee on Migrant Workers, Zhao Jiande, said: “Many migrant children go back to their place of permanent residence with the intention to study high school, but few in fact continue with their studies. Many simply stay at home.” Because these children have been living in the cities for large parts of their lives, the sudden change of environment creates enormous stress.

Although some cities, such as Wuhan and Wuxi, do allow migrant children to study high school, they still have to go back to their place of permanent residence to take the university entrance examination. However, some districts will not allow returning students to take the university entrance examination because only those registered in the school district are eligible.

The number of new students enrolled in higher education doubled from 2,200,000 in 2000 to 5,460,000 in 2006. And while the overall enrollment rates of 18- to 22-year-olds in higher education expanded from only 10.5 percent in 2000, to 20 percent in 2005, the proportion of rural students in tertiary education has declined. Figures released by the 2006 Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference showed that for every one rural undergraduate there were 282 urban undergraduates.

Social and cultural marginalization

Geographical segregation

A 2006 survey by the China Youth Research Centre showed that 69 percent of migrant children lived in migrant enclaves, usually located on the outskirts of the city, in which the ratio of migrants to local residents could be as high as twenty to one. The same survey found that 78 percent of migrant children lived in rented accommodation, and that only 17.2 percent of migrants owned their own apartment, while in other studies, the proportion of rented accommodation was as high as 93 percent. A study of 3,872 children living in Hangzhou found that about 85.5 percent of city children had their own room compared with only 25.6 percent of migrant children. The China Youth Research Centre found that 41 percent of migrant children said they disliked their living environment.

According to a study by the State Council’s Working Committee on Children and Women on migrant children in nine cities, 60 percent of migrant families did not have a refrigerator, 63 percent had no washing machine, and 93 percent did not have a computer, whereas almost all local families had a refrigerator, television and a washing machine, and 13 percent of local families had a computer. A survey in Guangdong found there were 164 television sets per 100 urban households, compared with only 35 per 100 migrant families. And 61 percent of urban households had internet access, compared with 11 percent of migrant families.

Living in migrant enclaves far from the centre of the city makes social integration difficult, and limits the chances for children of different backgrounds to meet. When migrant children do mix with urban residents they are often looked down on and belittled. A 12 year-old boy named Zhao who arrived in Hangzhou when he was eight, and lives with his parents in a small attic room said: “Sometimes, I am made to feel very inferior. People look down on us. City people are very bossy, and I am afraid of having any contact with them.”

Another boy studying in a migrant children’s school in Shanghai wrote: “The standard of living of local children and children from other places is miles apart. They eat much better than us; they live in apartments with a proper address; they go to proper schools. We… we eat much worse than they do; live in small houses; study in migrant schools. These local Shanghaiese look down on us people from other provinces, I will make them look up to us one day.”

Segregation in schools

Until recently, even if rural migrant children could get into urban state schools, they were not treated as integral members of the school. They could not take part in extracurricular activities or join social organizations, such as Young Pioneers. Neither could they be nominated as “outstanding students’ (三好学生, sanhao xuesheng, good in academic work, character, and physical ability). This sent a clear signal to these children that they were inferior and outsiders. It was only in the early 2000s that Beijing started to encourage local governments to recruit migrant children into the Communist Youth League. However, little actual improvement has been seen, partly because financial difficulties have limited the ability of migrant children to participate in social activities. According to the survey by the China Youth Research Centre in 2006, only 34 percent of migrant workers joined supplementary classes and interest groups compared with 63 percent of local children.

Discrimination in the state school system is common. A study in Changzhou found that a third of migrant children studying in state-run schools claimed they were often or sometimes mocked or teased. In Beijing, 33.7 percent of migrant children said they were not accepted by locals, and 40 percent claimed they were discriminated against. In some studies, the proportion of those suffering from discrimination could reach as high as 76 percent.

The following accounts show how two local students saw their migrant children classmates:

There is a student in our class who comes from Anhui province. Most of us eat the lunch arranged by our school which only costs about three yuan a day. However, this student only eats rice buns. We asked him why he did not eat the lunch prepared by the school. He said he likes eating buns. In fact, the actual reason is that he does not have enough money for the school lunch.

A primary school student wrote:

There is a boy from the countryside in our class. He wears dirty clothes and his face is black, as if he has not washed it properly. He does not like talking, does not have any friends, and performs poorly in school. He always fails examinations; I don’t know whether or not he pays attention.

Pressure from local parents can even force the authorities to scrap plans for greater school integration. Since 1999, migrant children in Wuhan have been allowed to study only in designated schools. But when some schools tried to bring migrant children into local children’s class, local parents claimed their children’s studies would suffer and the plan was abandoned. One Wuhan headmaster said it was not only the migrant children who suffered, the teachers who were assigned to them also felt discriminated against:

Segregated classes are not healthy for migrant children. It damages their self-confidence and hinders their integration into school life. Besides, it also creates psychological burden for teachers who are teaching migrant children. Some will be discriminated against by other teachers.

The relationship between migrant children and their teachers is problematic. A study entitled “Social adaptability of the children of migrant workers to city life” by the China Youth Research Center showed that a higher percentage of migrant students agreed with the following statements than local students: “teachers don’t understand me,” “teachers seldom pay attention to me,” “head teachers don’t like me,” and “I am not satisfied with the teacher-student relationship.”

Because of their long working hours and poor educational background, few migrant workers are able to help their children with their schoolwork. In a Guangdong survey, only 23.9 percent of parents claimed they regularly contacted their children’s schools, compared with 82 percent of urban parents. And if they discovered that their children did not perform as well as they thought, they would blame their children – creating family tension. A study on the adaptability of children to school life (455 migrant children and 444 local children) in northeastern China found that migrant children had lower scores in self-acceptance, teacher-student interaction and academic performance than local children.

Social divisions

Economic and social segregation have created and enforced stereotypes among migrant and local children. A survey of migrant children in Beijing revealed the “us” and “them” attitudes of migrant children. Urban residents were usually seen as richer, better dressed, more knowledgeable and speaking better Chinese than migrants. However they were also seen as disrespectful, impolite, lazy and living off the hard work of migrants. While a survey in Guangdong found that 58 percent of students in migrant schools did not like or even hated local children, 26 percent said they disliked locals because they were bullies, and 37 percent said city children looked down on them. Half of the migrant children played only with other migrant children. A study on Beijing migrant children found that 40 percent did not have local friends and 33.7 percent did not want to have local friends because they said they were arrogant, looked down on outsiders, were spoilt and were careless with money. The study by the China Youth Research Center on the adaptability of migrant children to city life found that only one third of migrant children were good friends with city children, about eight percent of migrant parents did not want their children to be friends with local children, that 10 percent of city parents did not want their children to have migrant children friends and also that 13 percent of city children claimed they did not know how to be friends with migrant children and 20 percent of migrant children claimed they did not know how to make friends with city children.

Because their parents have to work long hours, migrant children receive little emotional support and often have to rely on themselves. According to the China Youth Research Center’s 2006 survey, about 85 percent of migrant children had to do regular household chores and many of them were not able to go out to celebrate festivals or birthdays. As these children did not have the money to take part in after-class activities, their daily activities were limited to their homes and local neighborhood, such as watching television (88 percent); reading (68 percent), sports (67 percent); playing with children next door (60 percent), playing alone or with siblings (60 percent) and playing in parks (54 percent). Lacking proper supervision, migrant children were 14 times more likely to be killed or injured in a traffic accident.

According to a Guangdong survey, migrant workers did not put much emphasis on communication and the personal development of their children: 72 percent of them regarded provision of material needs as their most important task followed by the academic performance (47 percent) and conduct (43 percent) of their children. However, 62 percent of local parents regarded fostering good personal development as the most important part of parenting.

Social discrimination, relative deprivation and little parental support, makes it difficult for children to adjust to city life. A 14-year-old boy who came to Hangzhou when he was ten years old said:

I come from a rural area. Now I am living in a city, but I am not living a city life. What am I – a half city-dweller and a half peasant? My parents are busy working and they do not pay much attention to me. Many times, I feel very lonely.

Teachers only come to my home to tell my parents about my bad behavior. This is no use. My parents simply do not have time to care about me... Most of the time, they stay in a dormitory. Otherwise, they come home late and go out early. I usually only see them a few times in a month. And when I do see them they just nag me about my performance in school or lecture me about other stuff, like I were a three year old.

When I feel lonely, I watch TV, or wander around the neighborhood, or go to internet bars. I feel better when my parents are not at home. Local children are very lucky; they eat well, live well and wear Nike and Adidas. They look down on us. It is difficult for us to make friends with them.

In the China Youth Research Center study on social adaptability, the large majority of migrant children in Beijing (88 percent) said they did not regard themselves as Beijingers and more than one tenth (11.2 percent) felt they neither belonged to Beijing nor to their home towns.

Like left-behind children, migrant children are more likely to have negative emotions and lower self esteem. One survey found that 63 percent of migrant children believed they were a useful person compared with 80.9 percent of locals; only 60.3 percent had confidence in their abilities compared with 84.9 percent of locals; and only about 70 percent of migrant children felt happy about their lives, compared with more than 85 percent of city children. Many studies found that migrant children were more prone to anxiety over study and their social issues. They were more vulnerable to self blame, more likely to develop psychosomatic symptoms, be over sensitive, fearful and impulsive. , Migrant children studying in state-run schools, followed by those in migrant schools, had significantly higher scores in mal-adaptation, depression, hostility, social problems and loneliness than local children. This suggested that direct contacts with local children generated more pressure for migrant children. ,

Juvenile delinquents and victims of crime

The second generation of migrants is different from the older generation in that they do not have roots in the city, or in the countryside. They can’t blend into the city nor can they go back to the countryside.

A research officer at the Shanghai Juvenile Reform Center.

In 2005, the juvenile court in Haidian district, Beijing, recorded a criminal offence rate for migrant children three times higher than that for local children. In both Shenzhen and Dongguan, about 86 percent of the overall population are migrants. However, 99 percent of juvenile delinquents in Shenzhen are migrant children (85 percent originated from other provinces, 14 percent from other parts of Guangdong). Similarly, in Dongguan, 95 percent of juvenile delinquents were migrant children, and the delinquency rate has increased by five times in the two years from 2002 to 2004. In Xiamen, the proportion of migrant juvenile delinquents doubled from 22 percent of all young offenders to 57 percent from 2004 to 2006.

According to the Shanghai Reform Centre, in 2000, four in ten juvenile delinquents were migrant children. However in 2005, the number increased to seven out of ten. Crimes included homicides, assaults and rape. These children had been living in Shanghai for an average of 6.5 years, and their parents had been in Shanghai on average for 10.2 years.

Domestic violence seems to be an important factor in juvenile delinquency cases. Liu Ming, an 18-year-old from Jiangsu lived with his poorly educated father in Shanghai, and was frequently subject to corporal punishment. On one occasion, Liu’s father knocked out his front teeth. Feeling misunderstood and alienated, Liu started to take drugs and was eventually sentenced to four years in prison for theft.

A survey of more than 3,000 students in Beijing found that the proportion of migrant children being scolded or beaten was higher than local children. Moreover, they were more likely to engage in activities that endangered their health, such as drinking, smoking, and ignoring traffic regulations.

An academic at Shanghai University claims that the second generation of migrants is more sensitive to inequality and discrimination because, while their parents usually compared their life in the city with that back home, the second generation was more inclined to compare their living standards with those of urban families.

Without effective care and support, migrant children can more easily become the victims of crime. A professor of the Public Security Bureau University listed six risk factors of child abduction in Beijing: 1) living in areas with a high concentration of migrants; 2) children below three years old; 3) parents working in the service industry; 4) children without regular care; 5) migrant worker parents; 6) living outside the third ring road – where most migrant enclaves are located in Beijing.

As more and more locals move away from migrant districts, the administrative network has begun to break down in some districts and a social welfare vacuum has been created. Between 2000 and 2004, as many as 325 children went missing in Kunming, Yunnan province. Only two of them were local children. Of those missing, 319 came from two outlying districts with a high concentration of migrants. Unlike local children, fewer than half the number of these migrant children were under the care of a nursery or kindergarten.

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