Chinese government plans census of ‘left-behind’ children

Over 60 million migrant workers left offspring at home in urbanisation wave

People crossing the street in Beijing. China’s urban population is forecast to reach nearly 940 million by 2030, compared with 670 million in 2010.  Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

People crossing the street in Beijing. China’s urban population is forecast to reach nearly 940 million by 2030, compared with 670 million in 2010. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Chinese government is planning the first survey of “left-behind children”, the offspring of migrant workers who are working in the cities.

More than 60 million such children were left behind in their home towns in rural areas, often brought up by their grandparents or other relatives, while more than 36 million travel with their parents to the cities to become part of the unregistered, floating population.

China’s urban population is forecast to reach nearly 940 million by 2030, compared with 670 million in 2010. According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission figures, China has 254 million migrant labourers and their numbers are expected to surpass 310 million by 2030.

Song Yinghui, a professor at Beijing Normal University, told the Global Times newspaper that the numbers of left-behind children “posed a great challenge to social management” and the number was a lot higher than previously estimated.

A key feature of China’s opening up and reform process since 1979 has been the urbanisation programme that has seen hundreds of millions of people leave the countryside to work in the cities.

They often leave their children behind with their parents, or in some cases they are abandoned. The parents opt to leave their offspring at home because of high living costs or household registration restrictions, which means the children do not qualify for schools or healthcare in the city.

“Left-behind children don’t necessarily suffer economic woes but rather psychological ones,” Liu Xinyu, founder of On the Road to School, an NGO which provides financial and psychological help to left-behind children, told the Global Times.

“The poorest families we encounter are those whose parents are not migrant workers and who choose to stay in the villages,” said Liu.

Mr Liu likened the process of dealing with the children to that of treating diabetes.

“You have to control the insulin level on a daily basis and accept the fact that it cannot be immediately cured. The ‘left-behind children’ phenomenon exists due to deeper economic and social reasons,” he said.

Left-behind children are more at risk of being physically or sexually abused and of taking their own lives, according to studies, and they tend to underperform in school and lag behind in emotional development.

Evidence has also suggested that they are more likely to exhibit criminal behaviour as they grow up.