Migrants and “left-behind children” (2)

Two weeks ago, I published a review of a Ph.D dissertation written by Guo Lin on migrants and left-behind children that suggested that inequalities were greater between rural and urban children than between left-behind children and children with their parents. Although this study looked at the education, the health and the workload of left-behind children, the author did not analyse – as it was not the purpose of the paper – the emotional and behavioural consequences on being left behind by parents. In 2009, the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin released a paper on children and migrations in China looking at both left-behind children and those migrating with their parents to cities1. Even though this article was published five years ago, its findings are still current. According to a recent research, at least 61 million Chinese children are left behind2.

This report highlights the distress of these left-behind children, who can spend years without seeing their parents.

In addition to the issues they face at school and at home because of missing parents, many of them are also victims of sexual assault or harassment. They are also more likely to have accidents at home because of poor adult supervision. The authors argue that many of these left-behind children also suffer from emotional disorders.

Authorities are well aware of this issue and have launched several programmes to improve left-behind children’s wellbeing. One of these policies is the promotion of “stand-in parents” that will look after these left-behind children. Another is the creation of boarding schools that can host these children and provide them with proper supervision from responsible adults, but many of these boarding schools are poorly financed by local governments, and, consequently, do not offer adequate living conditions. The authors rightfully argue that all these measures do not address the underlying cause of the left-behind children problem, which is the challenge migrant parents face in bringing their children to the city because of the strict hukou policy. If this issue is not addressed properly, China will pay the price in the future with a poorly educated workforce and adults suffering from social disorders.

  1. Aris Chan (2009), Paying the price for economic development: the children of migrant workers in China, China Labour Bulletin, 2009, November. Reteived March 20 from http://www.clb.org.hk/en/files/share/File/research_reports/Children_of_Migrant_Workers.pdf []
  2. April Ma (2014), China raises a generation of ‘left-behind’ children, CNN, February 5. Retrieved March 20 from http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/04/world/asia/china-children-left-behind/ []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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