China / Society

Migrant children need more than food and education

By Zhang Yuchen and He Na (China Daily) Updated: 2012-10-31 08:38

A report analyzing the needs of migrant children reveals that in addition to the basic necessities of education and medical care, the disadvantaged young people need more attention paid to their overall development.

"They need more room to develop themselves, not only by having their essential living needs met, but also through the fulfillment of their whole range of personal demands," said Tao Chuanjin, director of the Research Center of Philanthropy and Social Enterprise at Beijing Normal University.

The center and the China Children and Teenagers' Fund conducted the joint research with 45 related organizations in 13 provinces and municipalities over the past six months and released the Framework to Study the Needs of Children in China 2012, in Beijing on Tuesday.

The overarching needs of these children, according to the research, comprises exploring their potential and natural abilities, playing together with companions of the same background and figuring out their hopes and dreams for the future.

According to recent statistics, there are 18.3 million migrant children aged from 1 to 14, accounting for 12 percent of the total population of children in that age range.

Migrant children suffer from inadequate family education resources and extreme expectations because their parents are unlikely to be educated and usually have poor communication with their children's school.

Many migrant parents are individual entrepreneurs such as fruit and vegetable sellers or barbershop owners, and some are manual laborers. They all work long hours with no fixed rest days, which causes a severe lack of emotional communication between children and their parents.

Zhu Shengxian feels regretful when faced with her 7-year-old daughter's disobedient silence. Like other migrants with little awareness of the real needs of their children, the woman from Henan province missed out on nearly all of her daughter's time at preschool.

"I would not have treated her the way I did. My care seems inadequate, which I have just now realized when my daughter seems to listen to me but hears none of my words," said the 36-year-old who sells pork with her older sister. "I always think, 'as long as she is with me she is alright'."

But this way of thinking is being challenged.

"When we talk about the needs of migrant children, people always believe they are in good hands as long as they live with their parents," said Song Hongyun, director of the social communication department at the China Population Welfare Foundation. "But the truth is that they need something more than that."

Outside the home, migrant children can sense the discrimination and detachment from mainstream society.

"They are not like the urban children who are confident and easygoing," said a headmaster at a migrant kindergarten in Beijing's Daxing district. "In contrast, they are shy, timid and afraid to talk and meet strangers."

Migrant children are prone to keep to themselves as their parents are too busy to care for them or do not know how to communicate with them.

"We should not label them as 'pathetic'. Instead we should pay more attention to them and care about their real needs," said Tao Chuanjin.

Programs aiming to provide migrant children with psychological or mental help attract less fundraising than programs targeting basic needs, said Deng Guosheng, director of the NGO research center at Tsinghua University.

More professional services, either from the government or non-government organizations should be involved, experts suggest.

Luo Wangshu and He Dan contributed to this story.

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