Children of migrant workers isolated in cities

Updated: 2011-08-19 19:01


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HANGZHOU - For the children of China's migrant workers, millions of whom have moved their families to the country's biggest cities to seek employment, life can be lonely and difficult.

Wang Qi, the daughter of a migrant couple, wants to return to her hometown in east China's Zhejiang Province, even though she has lived with her parents in the province's capital city of Hangzhou for more than two years.

"I miss my hometown so much. Everything is fine here in the city, but I don't have any friends. I am so lonely," said the 12-year-old girl.

She recently shocked her family by running away from home. She was sent back to her parents by a local policeman after wandering around the city for several days.

"More than 20 students dropped out of my class and went back to their hometowns last year, and there are only four newcomers this year," Wang said.

Wang's feelings of loneliness and alienation are not unique to her. Hangzhou's Banshan District police station has received 13 reports of runaway migrant children since July. Three of the children managed to make it all the way back to their rural hometowns.

The number of Chinese migrant workers reached 242 million around the end of 2010. These migrants left behind 58 million children in their rural hometowns. However, those who bring their children with them to the city barely have time to spend with them, as they often work more than 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

Thirteen-year-old Chen Qian, who came to Hangzhou to visit her parents during summer vacation, said she had to stay in a shabby rented house and watch TV all day long while her parents worked.

Xie Ruiying, a migrant worker from southwest China's Yunnan Province who has worked in Hangzhou for three years, does not understand why his 10-year-old son refuses to go to school.

"Education in the city is much better, but my son just doesn't want to attend school," said Xie. "I can't leave him in my hometown, as his grandparents are too old to take care of him."

Wang Xiaozhang, a sociology professor at Zhejiang University, said that social stigma attached to migrant workers may explain the loneliness and isolation felt by their children.

"The intense feelings of social rejection that migrant workers experience work to lower their children's self-esteem," said Wang. "They refuse to adapt to city life, as the bias is hard for them to understand."