|China's left-behind children lag behind [file photo]|
As China's urbanization quickens its pace, a growing number of village couples head to the cities in search of work and are thus forced to leave their children behind. The number of these left-behind children living with their grandparents or great-grandparents is currently estimated at 60 million nationwide. These children often face stark psychological and emotional problems as well as challenges to their personal safety and well-being.
According to a report published by the All-China Women's Federation (CWF), the number of left-behind children in rural areas stands at 61.026 million, accounting for 37.7 percent of rural children and 21.9 percent of all children nationwide. A generation of left-behind children is emerging in China.
As a special social group, they are vulnerable to physical and emotional hurt, with their personal safety often compromised because they are far away from their parents. In recent years, we have seen an increasing number of left-behind children suffering from death by drowning, poisoning, traffic accidents or fire incidents.
Pan Lu, researcher with the College of Humanities and Development Studies at China Agricultural University, points out that as their parents rush into cities for economic opportunities, they must rely on their children to take on some of the burdens of farming. Nevertheless, doing farm work at an early age makes children prone to injury. Besides, the rights of these left-behind children are more likely to be infringed upon. It is not unusual that they are beaten, threatened or even abducted by malicious adults. Some left-behind girls are even sexually assaulted.
Professor Shang Xiaoyuan of the Research Center for Children at Beijing Normal University said, "The root cause is their lack of parental custody." According to CWF's report, 53.3 percent of left-behind children in rural areas have been left by both parents; the remaining 46.7 percent grow up with one parent. The number of left-behind children living alone has thus far soared to 2.057 million.
Education is yet another concern. When the children are old enough, their parents will often put them in packed boardinghouses attached to the public schools in order to finish their nine-year public education. However, because of the poor conditions of those houses, many left-behind children struggle to keep up. Some even end up abandoning school altogether. A survey conducted by the Population Development Center at China's Renmin University, showed that only 88 percent of 14 year old left-behind children are still in school. Left-behind children are slowly becoming "lagging-behind" children.
In the rush for economic opportunity and growth, these left-behind children are becoming victims. This is a social problem for which we must find a solution. CWF's report suggests that the government should create a dynamic information system for the left-behind children and at the same time with the help of schools, families and communities set up a protection network the children can turn to. We should improve the custody supervision system to ensure that safe custody will be provided to all left-behind children.