Reports of parents’ deaths by China’s ‘left-behind’ children prompt a closer look at the family dynamic

Youngsters’ reports of deaths of parents who left them to seek work in cities substantially exceeded China’s national death rate, NGO’s study found

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 July, 2017, 9:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 July, 2017, 11:14am

The number of “left-behind” children in rural China who told researchers gathering data for a survey that at least one of their parents was dead substantially exceeded the national death rate, prompting a closer look at the extent to which the responses reflect the youngsters’ relationships with their families – or feelings of desperation and abandonment.

Beijing-based NGO On the Road to School, which studied rural Chinese children left in the care of relatives or family friends when parents moved to urban areas to seek work, found that 11.4 per cent of left-behind respondents reported that their father or mother had died recently. By contrast, China’s annual death rate stands at around 0.7 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

On the Road to School studied left-behind children in 17 provinces, including Gansu, Guizhou, Hebei and Hubei, receiving nearly 15,000 questionnaires back.

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“It is obvious that some children filled in wrong information in the questionnaire deliberately [as a way] for making fun and letting off steam,” the organisation said in their report released last week.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said the children’s answers should not be seen as an utterance meant to inflict harm on their parents, but as a cry for more companionship and care.

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“It reflects that children were very disappointed and desperate due to a lack of a parent’s [companionship] and their parent-child relationship was very estranged,” he said. “Parents need to accompany their kids and let them feel that they were not abandoned.”

Left-behind children suffer psychological harm that potentially poses a serious problem in later life, according to Xiong.

“The desperate feelings of some children on their parents may transfer to society,” he said.

The study also suggested that being left behind gradually drains children of concern for the welfare of their parents. Around 70 per cent of students who recently reported losing their father or mother said the incident had almost no effect on them and only 10 per cent said it had a grave influence.

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Chu Chaohui, a researcher with the National Institute of Education Sciences, said: “Children’s indifference towards [their] parent’s death may derive from the little amount of time spent with parents. Parents and kids would be closer only if they spent more time together.”

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, China has more than 9 million left-behind children in rural areas, living without day-to-day care from parents who left home mostly to make a living in cities.

The survey also shows that children whose parents were not around experienced difficulty in school. More than 45 per cent of respondents were picked on in school.

Kong Weizhao, a lawyer focused on juvenile protection, said left-behind children’s hard situation will continue in future as many parents in rural areas continue to seek work in big cities.

“It is also difficult for them to find a school for their kids in cities and the cost is high,” he said.