Psychological risks face left-behind children

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Left-behind children-who live in rural areas while at least one parent is away working as a migrant-are more prone to psychological problems and physical injuries, according to a report released by China's top health authority.

Such children face more psychological difficulties starting at age 6 than other rural children, and the gap widens with age, according to the report on the development of China's migrant population released by the National Health Commission over the weekend.

These vulnerabilities increase in the fourth grade, including problems with emotional control and social adaptability, and left-behind children are more likely to have self-inflicted injuries, the report said.

The report was based on a survey conducted by the commission and the United Nations Children's Fund between November 2016 and January 2017, which covered 27 counties in 12 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

More than 90 percent of the children were cared for by grandparents, whose average age was 59, the survey found. More than 70 percent of the grandparents had no more than a primary school education.

The report said the grandparents' lower educational levels made it less likely they would adequately address the children's emotional needs, making it more likely the children would develop psychological problems, the report said. Many of the children also had to take care of their own daily needs, as well as sharing household and farming duties.

The survey found that the left-behind children had fewer skills and less instruction on safety, making them more likely to sustain injuries from accidents than children who live with both parents.

Of the left-behind group, boys were more likely to suffer injuries due to accidents, the report said.

Overall, China's total migrant population has continued to decrease since 2015. Last year, it amounted to 244 million, a drop of 820,000 from the previous year, the report said.

The total number of left-behind children in rural areas was about 7 million by the end of August, a decrease of 22.7 percent from 2016, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Several factors have contributed to the drop in left-behind children, such as more children staying together with their parents and migrating to cities, more migrant workers returning to their hometowns to find jobs, and more parents realizing the importance of spending time with their children, according to Ni Chunxia, an official in social affairs at the ministry.

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