Even children from the countryside who move to the cities with their parents 
are unlikely to get a good education. In recent years, restrictions on migrants 
to the cities have been easing. But in most cities, migrant parents still have 
great difficulty sending their children to good local schools because they need 
documents such as a resident permit, job and rental contracts, proof that taxes 
have been paid and so on.
....


The Orphans of China’s Economic Miracle


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Opinion | The Orphans of China’s Economic Miracle

Millions of migrants have left their children behind in the villages — 
sometimes to live with family members, so...
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By Lijia Zhang
   
   - March 27, 2018
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查看简体中文版查看繁體中文版CreditPing Zhu


BEIJING — In the spring of 2015, 13-year-old Huang Kailong had just skipped a 
grade, from fifth to seventh, and her future sparkled with promise. Then she 
ran away from home. In a letter to her parents, Kailong explained the reason 
for leaving: She felt unloved.

Kailong grew up in Jidao, a picturesque village in Guizhou Province, one of the 
least developed in China. In her letter, she reminded her parents that they had 
left her with an aunt when she was just a year old. During the bulk of her 
childhood, her parents would go away for about four months every year to chop 
sugar cane in Guangdong Province, and they’d leave her with different 
relatives, an arrangement she had resented.

“I felt like a stray dog,” she said to me in the coastal city of Wenzhou, where 
she now lives with her boyfriend and several dogs they took in from the street.

In January, social media across the world lit up with the wind-burned face of 
Wang Fuman, an 8-year-old living with his grandparents in a remote village in 
Yunnan Province who treks almost three miles to school every day. He showed up 
in his classroom one morning with frost-covered hair, a teacher took his photo, 
posted it online and it went viral. The picture drew attention to the plight of 
the many Chinese children who grow up in the countryside without their parents 
nearby.


In the last three decades, 280 million Chinese people have left their villages 
for the booming cities in search of work, making up the greatest wave of 
migration in human history. But while seeking a better long-term future for 
their families through more lucrative employment, millions of these migrants 
left their children behind in the villages — sometimes to live with family 
members, sometimes to fend for themselves.

Reliable data are always hard to come by in China. According to a 2013 report 
from the All-China Women’s Federation, 30 million children — more than 10 
percent of all children in China — were living in the countryside without their 
parents, often in the care of relatives. A 2016 government report said that at 
least 360,000 of the children were left totally alone, with no family members 
to take care of them.

Parents have many good reasons for leaving their children behind: the high cost 
of living in cities, unstable employment so far from home and the restraints of 
China’s household registry system, known as hukou, which ties citizens’ welfare 
benefits and school privileges to their place of birth.

In the countryside, children left with extended family — usually uneducated or 
even illiterate grandparents with onerous jobs — are at risk of not getting 
adequate care. Discipline is often lacking. Aging guardians may fail to send 
the young children to preschool or may be unable to help older children with 
their homework. The lack of parental care in the countryside has been 
correlated with emotional and developmental problems among children.


And while urban children have thrived academically in recent decades, that has 
not been the case for their rural cousins, especially those who have been left 
behind. A study by Stanford University researchers, in collaboration with 
Chinese academics, found that children in the countryside were much less likely 
to complete high school. Those with both parents having left for the city 
perform markedly worse in school than those having one parent around, and boys 
are affected more than girls.

Other factors contribute to low academic achievement in rural China — notably, 
poor teaching standards and facilities at rural schools, and prohibitively high 
tuition costs (only nine years of school is free). But the crucial factor is 
the absence of parents.

Even children from the countryside who move to the cities with their parents 
are unlikely to get a good education. In recent years, restrictions on migrants 
to the cities have been easing. But in most cities, migrant parents still have 
great difficulty sending their children to good local schools because they need 
documents such as a resident permit, job and rental contracts, proof that taxes 
have been paid and so on.

Several sensational stories in recent years have brought attention to the 
problem of left-behind children. Among them, in June 2015, four left-behind 
siblings committed suicide together by swallowing pesticide in Guizhou Province.

In response, in 2016 the government called for better social services to 
protect such children. But on my recent visits to the countryside, in 
interviews with children and parents, it’s clear that a great deal more needs 
to be done. Rural education and village-level social services still lag.. And 
migrants must be allowed to send their children to good local schools in urban 
areas where they work — and not substandard, makeshift schools for migrant kids.

Without effectively addressing the problems facing left-behind children and 
providing for the needs of rural youths, the vaunted “Chinese Dream” will 
remain unfulfilled for much of the country.

Lijia Zhang is a journalist and the author of the novel “Lotus.”

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A version of this article appears in print on March 27, 2018 in The 
International New York Times. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe


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