The great­est gift

Bet­ter jobs in the coun­try­side mean big pay­offs for fam­i­lies

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Front Page - Luo Wangshu con­trib­uted to

Tao Xingyue, 12, and Tao Jun­shen, 10, used to dread the end of the Chi­nese New Year hol­i­day when their par­ents re­turned to their jobs in dis­tant cities, leav­ing the young­sters at home.

This year, though, they had no rea­son to cry. Af­ter five years of liv­ing with their un­cle in a vil­lage on the out­skirts of Chongqing mu­nic­i­pal­ity, the chil­dren have their par­ents back by their sides.

The Taos were typ­i­cal of the more than 60 mil­lion ru­ral chil­dren “left be­hind” when their par­ents moved away to be­come mi­grant work­ers. Mother Yu Chang­mei, a cleaner, and father Tao Yonghong, a se­cu­rity guard, could only re­turn home twice a year from their jobs in Guizhou prov­ince.

Now, how­ever, they are an ex­am­ple of an in­creas­ingly com­mon type of Chi­nese fam­ily — the re­united ones. Last year, China’s mi­grant pop­u­la­tion fell for the first time in about 30 years as aware­ness grew of the risks fac­ing left-be­hind chil­dren. The govern­ment is en­cour­ag­ing mi­grants to re­turn home, partly for eco­nomic rea­sons as it works to close the ur­ban-ru­ral de­vel­op­ment gap, but also to pro­vide sup­port for lonely chil­dren.

A new roadmap

On Feb 14, the State Coun­cil, China’s Cab­i­net, re­leased a guide­line on pro­tect­ing left-be­hind chil­dren, de­lin­eat­ing the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of par­ents, gov­ern­ments and so­ci­ety at large.

The guide­line, signed by Premier Li Ke­qiang, stated that lo­cal gov­ern­ments and vil­lage com­mit­tees should en­sure they are well-in­formed about the con­di­tions faced by left-be­hind chil­dren un­der their ju­ris­dic­tion, and to en­sure they are looked af­ter prop­erly.

The pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of par­ents were out­lined in the doc­u­ment, which also or­dered education au­thor­i­ties and schools to en­sure that chil­dren can live and study in safety.

Lo­cal gov­ern­ments are now al­lowed to use char­i­ties and vol­un­tary bod­ies to pro­vide ser­vices for chil­dren. A sys­tem of re­ports, in­ter­ven­tion, as­sess­ment and help will be es­tab­lished, and the guide­line also out­lined plans to grad­u­ally re­duce the num­ber of left-be­hind chil­dren.

Two-pronged ap­proach

The doc­u­ment is the first part of a twin ap­proach that will help par­ents to take their chil­dren with them if they leave their home­towns or vil­lages in search of work.

Since 2012, many provinces have grad­u­ally re­vised their education poli­cies to al­low the chil­dren of mi­grant work­ers to take the gaokao, China’s na­tional univer­sity en­trance exam, in cities. That means ru­ral chil­dren who would pre­vi­ously have been left at home are now able to live with their par­ents in cities.

The se­cond part of the ap­proach, be­ing tri­aled in Chongqing and a num­ber of other cities, is the cre­ation of an im­proved ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment that will en­cour­age po­ten­tial mi­grant work­ers to stay in their home ar­eas.

Most res­i­dents of Chongqing’s out­skirts are farm­ers on low in­comes. The mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment is help­ing them to start their own busi­nesses from home or to find work nearby.

In the past four years, Chongqing has pro­vided 7.4 bil­lion yuan ($1.1 bil­lion) in low-in­ter­est loans to 89,000 mi­grant work­ers. Busi­nesses that em­ploy more than 100 ex-farm­ers can re­ceive sub­si­dies of as much as 600,000 yuan, and 36 in­dus­trial parks are of­fer­ing work­shops, en­tre­pre­neur­ial guid­ance and fi­nanc­ing specif­i­cally for re­turned mi­grant work­ers.

More than 1.7 mil­lion mi­grant work­ers have re­turned to Chongqing since 2010, and more than 30 per­cent of them have started their own busi­nesses, ac­cord­ing to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s hu­man re­sources and so­cial se­cu­rity depart­ment.

“The best so­lu­tion for left-be­hind chil­dren is to re­unite par­ents and chil­dren,” said Liu Wenkui, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the China Founda-

Guan Xin­ping, a pro­fes­sor of so­cial pol­icy at Nankai Univer­sity in the north­ern port city of Tian­jin, said a lack of parental in­ter­ac­tion could af­fect chil­dren’s health and so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

“The com­pany of their par­ents is the best gift chil­dren can re­ceive. It’s not an easy process for an in­fant to grow to an adult; it re­quires care and help from their par­ents,” Guan said, adding that par­ents should en­gage fully with their chil­dren and teach them ba­sic skills, in­clud­ing rudi­men­tary health­care, house­work, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and morals.

“A lack of this sort of guid­ance may re­sult in prob­lems,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures pro­vided by the All-China Women’s Fed­er­a­tion, the coun­try had 61.02 mil­lion left­be­hind chil­dren in 2013, with 2.05 mil­lion of them liv­ing alone with­out a guardian.

The Zhong­min Academy of So­cial Affairs think tank, has re­leased sta­tis­tics show­ing that in Guizhou, one of the provinces that fea­ture reg­u­larly in lists of chil­dren of ab­sent par­ents, nearly 1.1 mil­lion chil­dren ages 1 to 16 were clas­si­fied as hav­ing been left be­hind.

Tragedies

In­re­cent years, a num­ber of tragedies have drawn at­ten­tion to the plight of left-be­hind chil­dren.

Last year, four chil­dren, ages 5 to 13, com­mit­ted sui­cide at their home in Bi­jie, Guizhou, af­ter their par­ents moved away.

Bi­jie was also the scene of a hor­rific crime when a 15-year-old girl and her 13-year-old brother were killed in the fam­ily home while their par­ents were work­ing in a dis­tant prov­ince. The po­lice dis­cov­ered that the girl had been sex­u­ally as­saulted be­fore she was killed.

In 2014, 10 vil­lagers were im­pris­oned for re­peat­edly rap­ing and sex be­hind girl in the Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

Liu, from the poverty al­le­vi­a­tion foun­da­tion, said al­though the cases at­tracted na­tional head­lines, they were quickly for­got­ten. “The tragedies at­tracted at­ten­tion for a while, but be­came cold quickly. When the news faded, the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem still hadn’t been erad­i­cated,” he said.

The scale of the prob­lem has been un­der­lined by sur­veys and re­ports com­piled by so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions. A re­port pub­lished in Novem­ber by the non­profit Las­sock Care Fund of the China So­cial Wel­fare Foun­da­tion found that girls in ru­ral ar­eas are more vul­ner­a­ble than their ur­ban peers.

The re­port said left-be­hind girls in the coun­try’s cen­tral and western ru­ral re­gions face many dis­ad­van­tages, in­clud­ing in­ad­e­quate nutri­tion, poor so­cial de­vel­op­ment and men­tal health is­sues. out guardians, while more than half stay with their grand­par­ents. Nearly 50 per­cent of girls left at home have one ab­sent par­ent, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

In April, a re­port on education, led by Zhang Liangxu, deputy di­rec­tor of the China Youth and Chil­dren Re­search Cen­ter, con­cluded that the struc­ture of mi­grant fam­i­lies is likely to re­sult in ju­ve­nile crime.

“There are im­por­tant links be­tween fam­ily fac­tors and ju­ve­nile crime. Bad fam­ily struc­ture, a lack of parental guid­ance and a poor eco­nomic and cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment are key fac­tors that re­sult in delin­quent mi­nors,” the re­port said.

Zhang and his col­league Zhao Hui­jie also con­ducted a sur­vey at a ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion cen­ter.

They found that more than 9 per­cent of ju­ve­nile crim­i­nals were left­be­hind chil­dren, while 9 per­cent were chil­dren from mi­grant fam­i­lies who lived in with their par­ents in cities.

“The chil­dren from mi­grant fam­i­lies were un­able to adapt to the new en­vi­ron­ment smoothly. When chil­dren move to cities with their mi­grant worker par­ents, they need to blend in with ur­ban life quickly,” Zhang wrote in the re­port. “How­ever, some chil­dren move to the city at a young age and their par­ents, busy with work, do not pro­vide enough care and at­ten­tion. Young peo­ple may adapt to city life blindly and in the wrong way. On the other hand, the city is not tol­er­ant enough to cud­dle th­ese new res­i­dents and pro­vide ap­pro­pri­ate sup­port.”

The best so­lu­tion for left-be­hind chil­dren is to re­unite par­ents and chil­dren.” Liu Wenkui, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the China Foun­da­tion for Poverty Al­le­vi­a­tion

A high price to pay

It took Yu Chang­mei three months to se­cure a job at an elec­tron­ics fac­tory in Chongqing at a monthly salary of 1,600 yuan, al­most the same as she earned in Guizhou. Tao Yonghong has not yet found a job.

Still, they say be­ing a fam­ily once again com­pen­sates for the drop in in­come. “It’s been worth it,” Yu said. “Sep­a­ra­tion from my fam­ily and com­mu­nity was too great a price to pay.”

How­ever, the cou­ple didn’t re­turn home be­cause they had been per­suaded by pref­er­en­tial poli­cies or govern­ment aid. In­stead, the im­pe­tus came from their chil­dren’s teacher, Peng Kaiqiang, who no­ticed that the chil­dren were of­ten glum and didn’t seem to en­joy school par­ties.

“Their un­cle treated them well, and their foster fam­ily did not strug­gle for money. What they lacked was their par­ents’ love,” said Peng, who phoned Yu and Tao ev­ery week to talk them through the chil­dren’s aca­demic per­for­mances. Even­tu­ally, Yu re­al­ized the sep­a­ra­tion was not do­ing her chil­dren any good.

Soon af­ter the cou­ple re­turned home, Peng saw the Tao chil­dren com­ing out of their shells.

“They used to fol­low their un­cle back home in si­lence, but now it’s all hugs and laughs when their mu­mor dad picks them up,” Peng said.

The par­ents of some of the other chil­dren in the class have also re­turned home, and the num­ber of left-be­hind chil­dren in the school has fallen to 11 from more than 30 in 2012.

In the past three years, Chongqing’s left-be­hind pop­u­la­tion has shrunk by 16.8 per­cent to 890,000.

While this may be good for the chil­dren’s well-be­ing, the scale of China’s mi­grant worker pop­u­la­tion na­tion­wide— 247 mil­lion at the end of last year, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics — means the prob­lem will not dis­ap­pear al­to­gether.

The au­thor­i­ties are now ready to act on­the State Coun­cil’s new guide­line. “Given China’s eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment, the phe­nom­e­non (left-be­hind chil­dren) will per­sist,” said Li Yi, head of chil­dren’s affairs at the Chongqing Women’s Fed­er­a­tion.

“We’ll help the guardians of left­be­hind chil­dren getupto speed with par­ent­ing skills and raise their aware­ness of safety,” Li said. “We’ve al­ready got 200,000 vol­un­teers ready to of­fer care and sup­port.”

HU CHENHUAN / XIN­HUA

Vol­un­teers play a game with left-be­hind chil­dren at Tang­shan Pri­mary School in Xi­ugu town, Jiangxi prov­ince, on Thurs­day.

DONG NAIDE / FOR CHINA DAILY

Zhao Wang reads a story to his chil­dren at their home in Shi­jia vil­lage, Shan­dong prov­ince, on Jan 27. Zhao re­turned home be­fore Spring Fes­ti­val for the first time in a year af­ter work­ing in a city far from home.

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