In a Cuncaoxin (meaning "Mother's Love") center for left-behind children in Wangjiang Village, outside Chengdu in Sichuan Province, ten year-old He Ping sits at a table reading books. Typically, she spends several hours everyday after school there.
Fifth grade student He Ping reads a book entitled My Nagging Mom in a Cuncaoxin home for left-behind children in Wangjiang Village of Jintang County outside Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province. It is one of 20 centers provided for children of migrant workers in the county. [CnDG by Jiao Meng]
Over 1,790 children in Jintang County have been left behind by their parents who migrate to urban areas seeking work. Most migrant workers rely on the elder generation to foster their children while they earn income to support the family. Over 58 million children in rural China must grow up without guidance from their parents, according to a 2009 survey by the All-China Women's Federation.
He Ping, the daughter of migrant workers who only return once a year during the Spring Festival, lives with her grandparents in the village. She said when she misses her parents, she goes to the Cuncaoxin home to play with friends.
"When I miss them, I come here and play with my peers then I feel better," He Ping said.
Over 20 Cuncaoxin homes have been built and operated by the Jintang County government since 2005. Sponsored by government’s funds and social donations, these homes offer places for left-behind children to read books, make friends, and play games such as table tennis, badminton, chess and rope skipping.
Each Cuncaoxin home serves dozens of children in a village. The centers also arrange for the children to have regular health check-ups.
"Most left-behind children enjoy better economic conditions compared with farmers' children," said Liao Xiaoping, Chairman of the Jintang Women's Federation. "However, without parents' love and guidance, many of them feel lonely and inferior, and some even have psychological problems."
He Ping said she understood why her parents had to leave her hometown to earn a living in the city. The best gift she can give her mother and father, she said, is a good report card from school.
"When I talk with them on the phone, I never ask for gifts," she said. "All I want is for them to come back to me."
On the weekends, volunteers come and spend time with children. They also keep a record of the each child's activities, and discuss any cases of abnormal behavior with parents.
24 year-old college graduate Jiang Hu has been working here at the Cuncaoxin home in since March 2009. Jiang said one of the keys to the Cuncaoxin home's success is providing a nurturing, stress-free zone where kids can relax and have fun.
"We never give them homework to do, just let them have fun," Jiang said.
Policies lure parents back
Local governments in areas prone to high percentages of migrant workers have been introducing more measures to lure workers to return home and make a living in their hometowns, which helps alleviate social problems that can accompany long-term child neglect.
In Jintang County, the local government has been encouraging migrant workers to return home and start their own businesses, with incentives such as tax breaks, access to loans and occupational training. Officials hope the incentives will also allow entrepreneurs to hire local workers.
35-year-old Zhu Fumin worked in a shoe factory in Dongguan, Guangdong Province for eight years. Now, he manages a shoe shop in his hometown, allowing him to earn 5,000 yuan (US$788) per month, almost as much as his Dongguan factory job.
Zhu said he has never once regretted his decision to move back home.
"My son didn't like to go to school and finish his homework on time in the past; what’s more, he didn’t listen to my parents, Zhu said. "After he entered middle school, I decided it was time for me to return and accompany him before it's too late."
Zhu said that after his return home, he is able to help his son with his homework every evening and their relations have become much better.
"It's not a decision that can be weighed by money," he said.