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Migrant workers' families need aid
By Bing Lan (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-03-10 05:57

Wives, children and parents left behind in the countryside by migrant workers need social assistance, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) said yesterday.

The splitting up of families, caused by adult males moving to work in cities, is posing a challenge to both marriage and the traditional function of fostering children and supporting the elderly, said Shen Shuji, who is also an official with the All-China Women's Federation.

The issue is becoming a new source of social problems, she warned.

"We have to appropriately address this issue," she told a plenary meeting of the CPPCC's annual session.

Shen recommended certain measures, including a special policy to guarantee educational opportunities for such children, accelerating the establishment of pension and medical care systems in rural areas, and encouraging enterprises and non-governmental organizations to help such families.

The rights and welfare of migrant workers themselves have aroused much attention in recent years. The government has formulated policies to protect their rights.

"While we address the problems of migrant workers, we should not neglect the changes behind this massive group of people," Shen said.

Seventy per cent of migrant workers leave their wives, parents and children at home.

The number of children aged between six and 16 in this situation is more than 20 million nationwide, accounting for more than half of the country's total. Some of the children have both their parents in cities and have to be taken care of by grandparents or other family relatives.

Without adequate care from parents, many of them become problem children, Shen said.

Wives left at home by their husband have to face hard work, loneliness and a lack of a sense of security, she said. Among sexual harassment cases in rural areas, 70 per cent of the victims are such women. In many cases, long-time separation ends up with divorce, she said.

There is still no pension system in China's countryside. Traditionally, the elderly in rural areas are supported by their children.

But the exodus of their children left many old people in a difficult situation. They have to continue to work in farms while taking care of the grandparents, Shen said.

In addition to offering help to family members left in the countryside by migrant workers, city planners should also consider offering low-cost housing for these workers to facilitate family reunions.

The country should also gradually scrap the decades-old bi-polar system separating rural and urban areas, which prevents farmers from enjoying the equal rights to employment, education, medical care and housing in cities.

(China Daily 03/10/2006 page2)

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