The plight of China’s “left-behind” children must be resolved
Policies should be put in place to make sure millions of the rural young can become happy and productive members of society
China’s future lies in its young people, too many of whom have been physically and psychologically harmed by the great migration from the countryside to cities. Just how many have been left behind to fend for themselves by job-seeking parents is not known, although numbers are estimated at in the tens of millions. Authorities have announced a census will be held to determine the scale and nature of the problem. That much-needed information will be used to direct policies ensuring the care that has for too long been lacking.
Accounts of children from the so-called “left-behind generation” who have suffered hardship and abuse abound. Among them were four siblings in Guizhou province who drank pesticide last year to escape the months of misery they had endured; all died. Children need the love and guidance of parents, without which they will grow up confused, angry and uncertain of their place in the world. A healthy childhood is a solid foundation for a well-adjusted society. It also contributes to the creation of a quality workforce.
The All-China Women’s Federation estimates that there are 61 million “left behind children”, so a huge task awaits the census takers. But numbers alone will not tell the story – data collected also has to indicate circumstances such as who is taking care of the youngsters, where their parents are, how much financial support is being given and whether adequate health care and education is being received. Such data is essential for ensuring government policies target the problem and provide necessary support.
Policies that allow permanent migration to cities should be the focus. Children should ideally move to cities with their parents. Reform of the hukou household registration system is under way, giving the opportunity for increasing numbers of families from rural areas to receive state-funded schooling and health care that had previously been denied. Ensuring such benefits will end the practice of abandoning children.