China's left-behind children
Estimates show that there are more than 19 million ‘left-behind’ children under the age of 15 years old in China.
These are children placed into the care of their extended family while their parents leave to find work in the cities, often to try and pay for their children’s education and the rising cost of living.
In some cases the children go with their parents and live in shanty towns on the outskirts of cities, such as the capital Beijing — often in poor conditions. But more often, the children stay behind with grandparents or aunts and uncles who look after them until their parents return. Parents will typically be gone for years, only returning during the Spring Festival in February.
The effect on the children left behind is devastating — many experience behavioral difficulties in class and are unemotional, unhappy and detached individuals.
Xu is a nine year old girl whose parents are both migrant workers. Xu has lived with her grandparents and baby cousin since she was three years old.
Her father, 34-year-old Tao, is an electrician and sends money home to look after his daughter. The grandparents also have apple trees and sell the fruit at the markets.
“My parents left me behind as they had noone to take me to and from school while they worked. They are in the city of Xi’an. I speak to them two to three times a month if possible and last saw them at the Spring Festival in February. I miss my parents most during the holidays when I am home from school.”
Shuai is a 13 year old boy living with his grandparents. Left behind when he was ten years old, the last time he was visited by his parents was at the Spring Festival. They hardly ever call.
“My mum is working in Xiang Yang City and my dad is in Shen Mu County (famous for rich coal and natural gas). I don’t know what they do for a living. I have two older sisters — one working in the south and the other in Xiang Yang City. My parents left me behind because they have to raise the family by making money to support me through school.
"I feel sad. I am different from my friends because they have parents that live with them and I don’t. When I am older I want to be a soldier because soldiers can save the world.”
Shi is a ten year old boy. He has lived with his grandparents since he was three and his parents have now moved from a nearby town selling funeral goods to Zhe Jiang — a city much further away.
“My parents work in the east of China. They come back here once a year. When they left they said they would come back after one or two years but I told them I wanted them to come back earlier. They haven’t so far.
“I feel sad. Before, when they worked nearby, my dad use to bring me to the country at the weekends to buy toys and he used to help me when I had problems with my homework. Now I have to ask my neighbor’s older children for help. My study scores are worse than they used to be.
“When I am older I want to be a teacher so I can help others to learn. I don’t want to move away from my parents so when they come back I will stay.”
How is Plan helping?Poor and vulnerable children, such as those left behind while their parents work, do not receive the protection to which they are entitled. Like their parents they are denied the opportunity to participate in making the decisions that affect their lives. Many Chinese children living in rural areas never get a chance to develop their full potential.
Plan works in five program areas in Shaanxi and is opening a new unit in Ningxia. Both these regions are among the poorest provinces of the country. Plan also works with partner organizations in 16 provinces and four urban areas to provide child protection and social inclusion for migrant workers and migrant children.
Child protection — In Shaanxi, Plan is supporting the establishment of the Shaanxi Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect — the first professional local child protection organization in China. Plan provides technical training to volunteers and organizes field trip visits. Children in the villages are encouraged to take part in development theater and art groups to express their opinions and ideas and tell others of their experiences and how they are feeling.
School resources — Under the School Improvement Project, Plan works to improve the quality of basic education in rural areas by improving school management and teaching methodology as well as increasing community participation in school decision making and resource allocation.
A recent donation from the Hilton Foundation has contributed to school improvement efforts by helping establish the Migrant Children’s Project to examine the schooling and education of migrant children.
Education for all — Education for All is a five year program that works to improve the quality of education in Shaanxi schools and make it more accessible for left-behind children, including encouraging and training teachers to be more aware of the children’s needs and abilities, supporting local education authorities to develop more localized teaching methods, and enabling children and parents to take part in the management of schools.
Training migrant workers — As most migrant workers are from rural areas and are uneducated, they often find it difficult to find work with a decent wage. To combat this issue, Plan has opened New Citizens Community Technology Learning Centers — one in Xi’an and the other in Nanjing — to provide migrant workers with vocational training to help improve their standard of living. Learning Centers offer free classes on basic computer and internet skills, career guidance and health counseling, including AIDS and infectious diseases prevention.
Microfinance — Plan also works with local microcredit associations to increase and improve lending to rural families in the Microcredit Project so that the parents can earn money at home by running a small business, by farming or by raising livestock. To improve the effectiveness of the loans, we provide training in agriculture and livestock farming as well as financial and market knowledge. We also train local microcredit associations and help them to improve management, resources and financial sustainability.
You too can help improve the lives of children, their families and communities by supporting Plan's work as a child sponsor. Sponsor a child today!
Learn more about Plan's work in China.