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Left-behind Children Cause Concern
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The recent uncovering of an 11-member criminal gang of migrant teenagers in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province, has drawn attention to the lack of proper education for many of these children.

According to the local public security bureau, the gang has been responsible for more than 30 thefts and robberies in the city since the beginning of June.

Some say the children of migrant workers are causing increasing problems, although others disagree.

Most gang members were teenagers, with the youngest member only 14 years old and the oldest 20. Policemen arrested all of them last month.

"They usually targeted young Internet users. They would stop the victims outside Internet cafs and drag them into a minibus they had hired," a policeman surnamed Sun, who was in charge of the case, told China Daily yesterday.

"They then forced the victims to hand over money or mobile phones with the threat or use of violence."

Sun claimed most teenage criminals came from rural areas of less developed regions, including Jiangsu and Anhui provinces.

They presently live with their parents, who work as migrant workers in Changzhou, an economic hub in the province.

But Sun said the children lacked parental care.

"My parents spend most of their time working in factories. They seldom pay attention to me. They didn't even know I stole," a member of the group surnamed Xiao was recorded by police as saying.

Statistics from the People's Procuratorate in Changzhou's Gaoxin District, an area densely populated with migrant workers, show criminal activities by migrant teenagers is on the rise. As a percentage of all juvenile delinquency in the area, the figure has risen from 38 percent in 2004 to 69 percent in 2005 and 89 percent in the first eight months of this year.

What is happening in Changzhou has also been occurring in other regions in the country.

A survey conducted by the Guangdong Provincial Prevention and Control of Juvenile Crime Organization across its 10 major cities found that migrant teenage criminal cases accounted for nearly 52 percent of the province's juvenile crime last year.

Officials and experts attribute this rise to a lack of proper education and protection by families and schools, and a favorable environment for the increase in juvenile criminal activity.

"Due to the lack of access to public schools in cities and high fees, most migrant youngsters begin roaming the streets," Fu Bingyan, an expert in juvenile delinquency at Changzhou Xinbei District People's Procuratorate, told China Daily.

"Protecting legal rights of education and work is the fundamental way to ensure migrant youngsters have a pleasant childhood and prevents them from committing crimes," said Fu.

He called for government-run schools to give free access to the children of migrant workers.

At the same time, there is an even larger group of so-called "leftover" children who stay in rural hometowns when their parents travel to the city to work.

"The long-term absence of parents will lead to problems in their studies and psychological problems, and even delinquency," according to Wu Yiming, dean of the sociology department at Nanjing Normal University.

Reports released this May looking at the millions of these kind of children in Hunan Province show that 57.14 percent of left-at-home middle school students have psychological problems, compared with a 15 percent national average.

Official statistics show China has more than 150 million migrant laborers and roughly 20 million children aged between six and 16 that have been left behind in their hometowns by their parents.

However, the leaders of schools set up especially for migrant children say problematic migrant teenagers are only a minority.

"The majority of the 730 students in my school behave," said Liang Liting, headmaster of the Hongshan School for Children of Migrant Workers in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu.

"They really cherish the chance to live with their parents and do well in their studies. There might be a few who behave badly, but that happens with people in every group or every social class."

(China Daily September 5, 2006)

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