n. Left-behind children (留守儿童: liú shǒu ér tóng)
As millions of workers have migrated from China’s rural areas to factories and urban areas, they have left behind millions of children. In 2005, China Daily reported that approximately 10 million children are growing up without their parents and in 2007, the All-China Women's Federation estimated 40 million children under 15 have been left-behind (click here for a map of where these children live).These children are often cared for by a remaining parent, grandparent, or family member and do not see their parent(s) for months or even years at a time. Parents are, of course, reluctant to leave their children, but with the lack of employment and the promise of work in cities, they feel that leaving is the best way to provide for their families. While they send money home, the kids left behind are also left to their own devices.
Problems such as delinquency and psychological issues related to insecurity and trust are already significant issues among these children. A commenter one article fought back on the assumption that these children are neglected by their caretakers. He makes a good point, especially for a country so family-focused. However, aging grandparents who need to keep up with one or several grandchildren cannot be expected to have enough energy to keep up with them, enough education to help them with homework, or enough savvy to protect them.
Fifty-three percent of all left-behind children have no parental care. With such statistics, it cannot be denied that both younger and older children will suffer loss and negative consequences will arise as a result. Left-behind kids often feel isolated and lonely and, consequently, withdraw. Fear, worry, and uncertainty about their own situation and that of their parents contribute to what is being called “left-behind syndrome.” Additionally, there have been numerous cases in which left-behind children were targeted in sexual crimes and abduction.
The problem is not a recent one and joins a list of other issues related to migrant workers. Significant migration from rural areas began during the 1980s and has continued to expand since then. As the number of left-behind children also rose, voices in their communities cried out for help from the government. Premier Wen Jiabao visited some of the kids to show his commitment to creating healthier lives for them in 2003. During his visit Wen wrote on a blackboard, “同在蓝天下, 共同成长进步 (Under the same blue sky, grow up and progress together).” In 2004, the Ministry of Education held meetings on the issue, and in 2006 it was announced that a department would be set up specifically for left-behind children. The China Labour Bulletin reports that, “As part of the blue sky campaign, volunteers, usually referred to as ‘loving mothers’ (爱心妈妈), “stand-in parents” (代理家) or “loving buddies (爱心伙伴) were recruited to provide emotional and practical support to left-behind children, in order to ease their feelings of alienation and to improve their psychological health.”
The issue has also come to the attention of people outside the rural areas. In 2007, Catherine Lee Yuk San made the documentary “Children Left Behind” in which she interviewed a number of left-behind children. The Hong Kong producer received an award from UNICEF.