One hundred million children in China are growing up with limited or no parental care as people move to cities to work, leaving their children behind in villages, experts have said.
Estimates indicate at least 60 million children are left in rural areas and at least 36 million children are “unregistered floating population” who live in one city while their parents work in another.
The new statistic is likely to be controversial as the official figure for “left-behind children” in China has hovered around the 61-million mark for the past couple of years.
State media quoted professor Song Yinghui from Beijing Normal University as saying that some 100 million were “left-behind children” and they posed a “…great challenge to social managements”.
“The number－100 million－is about one-third of Chinese children under 18, which means that one in three children in China is left-behind or travels with parents,” Song was quoted as saying by China Daily newspaper.
Song discussed the estimates at a seminar in Tianjin over the weekend as the government prepares to conduct the first census of “left-behind children” in 2016.
According to state-run Global Times newspaper, a senior government official who attended the seminar did not “endorse the number” put forward by Song but confirmed the upcoming census, indicating the government is taking the matter seriously.
Though the phenomenon has been witnessed in China for the past couple of decades, it was only in February that the State Council, or the country’s cabinet, released a circular that said the government will attempt to reduce the number by 2020.
It notified that the ministry of civil affairs will lead efforts to tackle the problem, which is more acute in poorer provinces from where millions of workers migrate in search of a livelihood.
The problem quite clearly is serious.
“Left-behind children’s tragedies may hit the front pages of newspapers for a few days, but when the stories go cold, people’s attention shifts. The key to solving the problem is to establish a system to help them and prevent such tragedies,” Liu Wenkui, secretary general of the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, told China Daily.
It is also a complex problem as the issue of poverty is closely linked to it.
‘“Left-behind children’ don’t necessarily suffer economic woes but rather psychological ones. The poorest families we encounter are those whose parents are not migrant workers and who choose to stay in the villages,” said Liu Xinyu, founder of an NGO which helps such children.