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Children left behind face tough road
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-06-02 08:49

China's rural migrant workers help their families ward off poverty by mailing home their earnings cent by cent, but the children left behind in rural areas suffer more acute "growing pains" than their urban peers.

Many children are left of their grandparents in rural places in Hunan Province while their migrant worker parents are away in cities. [China Daily]
While many minors, most of them in big cities, are learning to play the piano and enjoy their happy childhood, millions more of China's children face such challenges as absentee parents, insecurity, unreliable education and psychological problems.

Teenager Xiao Lian (not her real name) was placed in her uncle's custody by her parents, who in August 1999 migrated from their hometown in Yindian township of Suizhou in Central China's Hubei Province.

One month later the girl, then 11, was raped by a relative.

"Daddy, I'm so scared. Please come back soon," she wept.

The parents came home with a limited amount of savings two years later, and were almost overwhelmed by humiliation, regret and indignation after hearing of the crime perpetrated on their daughter.

But to get enough money for a lawsuit against the perpetrator, they left home again in late 2001, leaving the girl with lasting physical and psychological traumas.

Despised and often bullied by her schoolmates, the girl is now a very timid loner who rarely speaks.

Acute situation

According to Ma Dingming, head of the local court, approximately 10,000 out of the township's total population of 30,000, and 70 per cent of all of the young people there, are working outside. They left behind problems in education and management of their children. Still worse, the migration has led to more divorce cases, and most of them involve children 5-10 years of age.

Rural development is one of the top concerns of the Chinese Government, but the migration problem is most acute in five provinces: Henan, Anhui, Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi.

Large rural populations in these provinces, coupled with the scarcity of farmland, is forcing a growing number of residents to migrate to cities for work.

Hubei's labour and employment authorities estimate that about 3 million labourers have flocked out of the province for jobs in other parts of China over the past five months - up 10 per cent from 2003.

According to a recent sample research conducted by the Beijing- based China Social Survey in cities like Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou and provinces, including Henan, Sichuan and Hubei, 83 per cent of the 670 respondents said their purpose for working outside their hometown was to change their life and the lives of their children. And 79 per cent of the surveyed noted they were reluctant to leave their kids but had no other options.

The survey also found that 43 per cent of the respondents thought their migration would have negative impact on their children, and another 36 per cent said they never thought about the problem.

Therein lies the paradox for China's big force of migrant workers. Against their original will to better their own living standard and save more money for the future of their children, absence of parental care has resulted in the formation of unrestrained and selfish personalities and even autism in many of the children left behind. Some of the minors left schools and their custodians to live as waifs. Juvenile delinquency is another direct consequence.

According to Wang Caibin, headmaster of the central primary school of Caowu township of Jingshan County, Hubei Province, nearly half the 1,000 students had parents working outside their hometowns. They made up a majority of the problem students at the school, Wang said.

Wang cited a sixth grader who had his guardians changed several times before he started to idle all day long, with his grades sliding down drastically.

The plight of rural minors is a worrying social problem cropping up in the process of urbanization and labour transfer, said Zhou Zongkui, a noted psychologist with the Central China Normal University based in Wuhan, who specializes in children's socialization.

"Fine and reliable relationships are crucial for the healthy growth of children, and it may help them build a sense of trustworthiness and security about the external world," Zhou explained.

"The normal relationship between minors and their parents has been interrupted, and the interruption will probably lead to failure to build the sense of security and trustworthiness and then to a negative tendency in their future attitude towards other people and society," Zhou added.

Efforts are being made to improve social welfare in rural areas, and in the process, the emotional loss suffered by rural children should be taken into account, he suggested.

Zhou noted that exclusive counselors should be deployed in primary and middle schools in rural areas to help compensate for family care that is absent for minor nesters.

The best choice for migrant workers is to take their kids with them, Zhou said. But he added that it is too expensive for most.

Guo Xianwen of Luotian County in Hubei Province said he and his wife worked in Wuhan with their son studying there. Then their family's annual spending amounted to 10,000 yuan (US$1,200), of which 3,000 yuan (US$360) was used to support the child - much higher than the 1,000-yuan cost for the minor when he studied at their rural home.

Guo estimated that at most, only two of every 10 migrant parents are able to bring their children out with them. To this end, some experiments are being made with some rural schools.

In Yandian town of Anlu, Hubei, Sun Xiuchao, praised as "acting mother," has launched a family-style dormitory for 63 primary students.

An experienced primary-school teacher, Sun not only takes care of the food and clothing and other basic necessities of life for the children, but also supervises and instructs their study.

There are now 100-plus "acting mothers" like Sun in the town, which has nearly 10,000 migrant workers in its total population of 16,000.

Yan Meifu, a psychologist with Wuhan-based Hubei University, said that living in community may help the minor nesters, who are thirsty for parental love, gain some emotional stability and grow in a more healthy way.

Other measures include the establishment of special training schools to instruct guardians of minors in how to take care of the children in their custody.

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