China’s urban migration plan comes at a cost.
We have been traveling to villages in rural Southwest China for over a decade. But today the population has shifted dramatically. The middle-aged demographic is no longer seen in the countrysides. Children are left behind as their parents seek new jobs in the city.
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Up to a third of all children in China have been “left behind”, says Professor Song Yinghui of the College for Criminal Law Science at Beijing Normal University. “Left behind” is a term commonly used to describe children who remain in rural communities while their parents move to the city for work and higher wages.
According to Song, who spoke at a conference in Tianjin last weekend, over 60 million children have been left behind by their migrant worker parents, while another 36 million remain unregistered and free of any parental supervision. As such, left behind children face a higher risk of suicide, as well as physical and sexual abuse.
Although previous estimates had pegged the number of left behind children at 61 million, Song believes the number is closer to 100 million. The situation poses “a great challenge to social management”, says Song.
As the Global Times reports, left behind children face a number of other challenges:
Multiple surveys conducted by scholars and NGOs in China have shown that “left-behind children”… tend to underperform in school and lag behind in emotional development. Evidence has also suggested that they are more likely to exhibit criminal behavior as they grow up.
In February, China’s State Council said that the government aims to significantly reduce the number of left behind children by 2020. According to Qi Xuesen, Director General of the Chinal Social Welfare Foundation, this target is in line with the poverty alleviation goals set in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan.