Migrant children increase in number, visibility

Updated: 2008-03-24 14:08

BEIJING - Geng Ting, 11, had mixed feelings when she left her hometown three years ago to join her parents, who work here.

"I was happy to rejoin my parents but unwilling to leave friends I'd grown up with," said Geng. She came to Beijing from Gushi County in Henan Province and is now a fifth-grader at the Longhai School for children of migrant workers in Daxing District, Beijing.

Nobody knows exactly how many migrant children there are in Beijing, but about 400,000 are eligible to attend school, according to Ma Chentong, deputy director of the Beijing Women and Children Working Committee.

Experts advocate the registration of migrant children nationwide as a way to improve their lot.

Chen Xiurong, deputy chairman of the All-China Women's Federation and a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), said that the fifth national census in 2000 showed there were about 19.8 million migrant children.

"But the current figure could be far different, as migrant workers have almost doubled over the past decade," Chen said. As with migrant children, there's no definitive figure on the number of migrant workers, but some estimates put the number at 10 percent of China's 1.5 billion population.

Pilot projects to register migrant children are being supported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Wuxi in Jiangsu Province, Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province since 2001 and in Beijing since 2007.

Police usually only collect information on migrants over 16 years of age for public security purposes, but migrant children are often overlooked. The UNICEF-backed project is being implemented in partnership with the Office of the National Working Committee for Children and Women (NWCCW) under the State Council.

"The registration system developed by the project makes these children more visible to the local authorities and facilitates their protection and referral to services," said Zhang Yali, Plan of Action and Promotion of Child Rights Program Officer of the UNICEF Office for China, "Knowing the exact number of the children of migrants can help the government arrange resources for their education or health."

Instability is a reality for this population, said Dong Laifu, who funded the Longhai School for migrant children. "At least 200 students leave the school each year or about one seventh of all students."

Geng Ting has been at five schools in three years in Beijing and doesn't like it. "I sometimes lose my temper with my parents for changing schools so often as I've just built up relationships with teachers and friends and then I have to leave. It means I have to do this all over again."

Also, she said, some schools weren't up to standard and her parents wanted to find better ones for her.

It is difficult to convince many migrant parents to register their children, as they fear the information will be used to levy a family planning penalty.

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