Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, October 23, 2015

A new aspect of China's neglect of children

It's long been known that secondary school enrollment in rural areas of China has fallen because heading to the big cities offered more opportunities than getting an education at home.

In addition to that it seems that huge numbers of children are being left in rural areas when their parents head for the bright lights and jobs.

Neglecting this resource might have economic and political repercussions.

Little match children: Children bear a disproportionate share of the hidden cost of China’s growth
Over the past generation, about 270m Chinese labourers have left their villages to look for work in cities. It is the biggest voluntary migration ever. Many of those workers have children; most do not take them along. The Chinese call these youngsters liushou ertong, or “left-behind children”. According to the All-China Women’s Federation… [and] UNICEF… there were 61m children below the age of 17 left behind in rural areas in 2010…

Just over half of the 61m counted in 2010 were living with one parent while the other spouse was away working; 29m had been left in the care of others. Mostly the carers were grandparents…

36m children had gone to live with their migrating families in cities. But this has its own problems; very few of these children can go to a state school or see a state doctor at subsidised prices in their new homes. Moreover, their hard-working parents often cannot look after the children. Without grandparents or a state school to keep an eye on them, such migrant children can be just as neglected as those left behind in the country…

Anecdotal evidence suggests that an unusual number of left-behind children have siblings. One reason for this is that China’s one-child policy has been implemented less strictly in the countryside…

Most left-behind children are lonely. Many live in rural boarding schools far from their villages because, in an attempt to improve educational standards in the countryside, the government shut many village schools down in favour of bigger institutions. About 60% of children in the new boarding schools have been left behind…

In 2010 researchers at the Second Military Medical University in Shanghai studied over 600 children in 12 villages in Shandong province, in the north-east, half left behind and half not. The difference in the physical condition of the children was minor. But the difference in their school performance was substantial and so was the emotional and social damage to them, as measured by a standard questionnaire…

[L]eft-behind children are vulnerable to sexual and other abuse…

Child abuse is distressingly common anyway. An analysis of 47 studies in Chinese and English this year estimated that over a quarter of Chinese children are physically abused at some point in their lives. The left behind are among the most vulnerable to such abuse, especially those in boarding schools, because any adults who might speak up for them are far away…

Those left behind can be perpetrators of crime as well as victims… Juvenile offences are rising in China, which may well in part be because of the increased numbers of left-behind children. Two-thirds of all Chinese juvenile offenders came from rural areas in 2010…

Given the harm that being left behind does to children’s health, education and emotional development, it is not hard to imagine that the damage will be felt not just by the left-behind themselves but by society as a whole…

At its heart, the problem of the left-behind is one of misplaced hopes. Like so many parents, China’s migrants are deferring pleasure now (that of raising their children) for the hope of a better life later (to be bought with the money they earn). One result has been the stunning growth of cities and the income they generate. Another has been a vast disruption of families—and the children left behind are bearing the burden of loss.

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