One of the largest migrations in human history, rural poor workers are traveling to cities where the jobs are. China’s economic boom is partly caused by an increase of migrant workers willing to work for low wages. The high costs of living and long work hours force parents to leave children to be raised with grandparents in the villages until they earn the money to take them to the city.
A young girl talks to her parents over the phone while they are away. She is the first to use the free phone at school. It is a difficult call to make. She cries saying, “I’m not used to chatting with them…usually I just answer their questions,” (Youtube).
It is heart-breaking to hear the individual stories of children apart from their parents who are living in the city to work. A teacher at the end of the video implores the public to see that left-behind children are hard-working and independent. At the same time they lack the ability to trust others.
A plea for time off was discovered on the door of Jianba hairdressers in the southern city of Zhuzhou. Hairdresser Wu Hongwe addressed the note to customers with the message, “I got a call from my daughter yesterday. I have been away from her so long, she doesn’t even know how to call me ‘Daddy’ any more… I beg you for a week off to visit my family,” (Wan). Wu’s daughter Beibei has become accustomed to calling her parents Mum and Dad, with the mentality that they are just their names. With so much time and distance between the child and her parents, they have become strangers to her. “Mama” has no meaning. The countryside where she lives is a healthy environment and has a low cost of living unlike her parents’ city. She grew up with her native dialect and has a difficult time understanding her mother’s Chinese.
What hurts her parents the most is that their daughter does not know what it is like to have a mother. They have set a goal of working to gain enough money to bring her into the city by February this year.
Within the next week, there will be a research launch on “They are Parents: A Study on Migrant Workers of Left Behind Children in China” with conferences in Beijing and Shanghai. CCR CSR report launch will share a study from the perspective of working parents, (Zhang). We need to realize that these migrant parents do what they do because they think it is what is right for the well-being of their children. Don’t we all want what is best for our kids? Now we have the mission to provide the educational and social services to left-behind children to promote their emotional development. Global Children’s Vision strives to equip LBC with the tools to succeed in life.
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A tragic case is of 11 year old Maria, abused at home by her mother. The mother left her in the house for three months to work in Moscow then came back as an alcoholic. She beat her and had sex in front of her damaging her child emotionally with the abuse. This story is very common. A community in Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, is suffering from economic and social breakdown caused by a collapse of state-run collective. “As a result, more than half of its working adults go abroad to earn a living wage,” (Milmo).
Another case of Adriana, 13, and 16 year old Gina moved in with their grandmother when there parents went to work in Moscow. Gina became pregnant, was banished, and lived in animal sheds. A study in 2005 found that 110,000 Moldovan children lived in a household where either one or both parents are absent,” (Milmo).
Left Behind Children are found across Europe. Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe to the east of Sweden and Denmark. It is another country dealing with temporary labor migration. This means that there is short term emigration from Lithuania parents who leave children to be cared for relatives. Most of the time it is undocumented. According to a 2007 study, 36 percent of children who stayed behind experience noticeable changes in behavior (VAITEKONIENĖ). The first case study recorded children left behind as anxious, lonely and lacking in confidence. The second case study found them to be suffering from anxiety and sadness, loss of appetite and sleep disorders. The final case study compared genders. Boys tend to develop emotional and behavioral disorders while girl are more likely to show symptoms of depression. The term “Left Behind” doesn’t seem to be used, but the problem and the solutions are similar.
Left Behind Children often suffer from lack of guidance and supervision. Though well-supported financially by parents working in the city, it has been found that “without normal family guardianship and education, some of the children quit school at an early age and commit crimes,” (Chuanjiao). Loneliness and feelings of abandonment contribute to a neglect of their education. They turn to crime. The crime rate increases for left behind youth. For rural youth, it often is the case that they are not bailed out for that crime.
“Young people left behind by migrant parents, meanwhile, are more vulnerable to being incarcerated if they have no guardian. Their rural home towns lack resources to monitor children on probation, so they end up in prison. They also appear more susceptible to trouble in the first place. The Centre for Child-Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility, a Beijing partner of Save the Children Sweden, conducted a survey which found that 60% of left-behind children felt their parents were “not around” when they needed support,” (Economist).
Li Tianyi’s case is one that has spread throughout online media. Although Li has famous singers as parents, he is still a migrant and therefore was put in prison. In cases that deal with youth from rural areas the teenager is usually sentenced to a longer term in prison. Mr. Li was convicted of a crime of gang rape and was sentenced for 10 years in prison. His accomplices pleaded guilty and paid a large sum of money. They were “city-dwellers”. When the criminal is a former Left Behind Child from a rural area “Chinese courts are more likely to imprison rural and migrant youths than their city peers,” (Economist). City peers can pay the victim a compensation in place of imprisionment. The case of Mr. Li illustrates the urban-rural gap and what it means for those affected by China’s urbanization phenomenon.
Migrant youth do not have the benefits that urban youth are privileged with. Healthcare and social security is not accessible for the youth living in rural areas.
Unfortunately the hukou system makes it so that migrant workers have limited rights denying them services that only citizens of urban areas are given. It therefore decreases equality between migrant workers and urban citizens. In fact it prevents them from assimilating into the city. It is creating various living issues that have detrimental emotional and social effects on the workers. They are losing hope and struggling with feelings of loneliness and not fitting in.
“US-China, two-way express. Pick up from airports, packages, children”. Are children really listed as baggage? Our latest post was about the phenomenon of Left Behind Children who have foreign passports. The fact that a sign mentions children as a thing to be shipped from one country to the next is commonly seen around China. Think about it. How did you respond when you first moved from one home to another or how did your children respond? It is difficult. Transition for children is always rough.
Transition is a trauma. Transitions of LBC from one home in China to another in the United States and back to China as a young child and then the journey to return to America at the time their parents earn enough money is the process many have to go through. It makes even my head dizzy to think about. Chinese children don’t acknowledge that they are sad moving or being away from their parents for long periods of time. It is uncommon in China for one to express oneself and especially to express what they are feeling. All they want is to do is to live with their parents, wherever they live.
China’s one-child policy can be evaluated within this context. Children do not have siblings and according to studies, the policy has increased the likelihood of these children becoming more pessimistic and less trusting (Abrams). What does this mean for the LBC issue you ask? If one goes through life alone without a mom or a dad providing love and comfort, it is lonely. Without a sibling to fight with, play with, and most importantly, to share the burden of being away from their parents, the child does not have anyone they can relate with.
Left Behind children are left without siblings, without parents, and without a steady home life and stable family system.
“China’s rural-to-urban migration has affected… 22 million who have been left behind by their migrant parents,” (Xu). 22 million LBC have been affected and that number changes every day! A university study on well-being of migrant and LBC found significant results on left behind children who stay at home in rural areas while their parents are away working in cities. They suffer from reduced parental care and supervision. This causes a higher risk for psychological and behavioral issues (OCD, depression, etc.), and feelings of abandonment. They are more likely to disregard their education by dropping out of school or skipping classes. They feel like baggage to be transported. They feel like a burden to aging grandparents who are unable to relate and have a difficult time trying to raise the suffering child.
What can YOU do to empower these Left Behind Children? Educate yourself, discuss solutions, and act!
Lastly, I wanted to bring your attention to an event on December 5-6, 2013, when there will be an Inaugural WUN Global China Conference on Family Transition, Aging, and Social Security in China. One focus of the conference will discuss the implications of China’s growing economy on Left Behind Children, defined for those involved in the conference those “who live with their grandparents or other relatives as their parents moved to the cities for employment,” (Heung). Could you imagine being raised by extend family – a grandparent or aunt – and have limited contact with your working parent? I look forward to what they come up with regarding one of the key issues on increasing “family stability” and the results of their conversations about LBC. I bring up this conference to let you know that powerful research institution collaborations such as this “Worldwide Universities Network” are discussing and brainstorming solutions, which is something everyone has the ability to do.
(all children in above picture have foreign passports)
The hard-working parents of left behind children migrate to the States to find better paying jobs. Foreign passports are distributed to children yet it is expressed that “Kids generally leave China aged 5, because their US passports are only valid for five years,” (Chinese Time).
Consequently LBC are then raised by grandparents or extended family who cannot provide the parental comfort the children desire. An illusion of comfort by the toys and other gifts sent from America is not enough. A child’s greatest hope is to join their parents in the States but it is important to examine the parents’ greatest hope, which is is for their child to effectively integrate into American society.
Accommodating this wish, some schools for left behind children teach English and Chinese to prepare them for their future in America.”Giving birth to a child in the States is a wonderful dream, but a very costly one too,” Song Jingwen states. It is expensive for maternity care but it is a privilege to be born in America since it grants one’s parents with an ability to emigrate to America later on and provides a bilingual education for the child that is given higher priority to enter good Chinese schools.
A 4 year old Chinese boy, Liu, was born in America and sent to China at 3 months. With a name of Eddie on his US passport, he is one of the LBC with foreign passports that were forced to live with a family member in China. Liu’s mom works long hours in America and is unable to take care of her child. Grandparents or relatives attempt to provide the child care before the child is able to go back to America and live with parents continuing their education at age 4 or 5. “But nice preschools and family care can’t replace the absence of parental interaction,” (CCTV reporter Lin Nan). In the kindergarten of interest in this CCTV article, 80% of students owned US passports.
Pitying the child left behind with a parent overseas, family tends to spoil the child and fail to provide them the parental attachments needed for healthy development. Emigration from poor villages to rich cities in America leaves the parent with no time to physically provide care for their child, but also leaves them with a justification for their actions. They believe the child is well fed, loved, and provided with a privileged life.
“These children all hold foreign passports, as their migrant worker parents have all gone to other countries － mostly the United States － to work.”
“US-China, two-way express. Pick up from airports, packages, children” reads a sign that illustrates the issue of the shipping children overseas.
China’s “Born in the USA” Frenzy – TIME http://content.time.com/time/world/article
It’s hard to imagine elementary, middle and high school without the help of parents. While growing up, there are countless lunches made, thousands of outfits picked out, many mornings waiting at the bus stop, hundreds of hours spent on homework and dozens of parent-teacher meetings to ensure wellbeing. For many, this wouldn’t be possible without the help of mom and dad.
For left behind children, school is still important. But without the love and support of parental attention, it might not be as trouble-free.
According to UNICEF, parental supervision and presence is vital during the time when children learn the importance of studying and school. UNICEF found in their study, The Situation of Children Left Behind by Migrating Parents, that most LBC involved mentioned that their school performance has decreased since their parents’ departure. This can be for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, parents aren’t around to help students manage their time. It is understandably hard for elementary age children to balance freedom and schoolwork. One child involved with UNICEF’s study mentioned, “It’s difficult to stay at home and study when you are alone and friends invite you: ‘Come out!’ And nobody is there to stop you from going,”
UNICEF also consulted with local public school administrators on the school habits of LBC, and found that many teachers and headmasters are also noticing many LBC having a hard time. “Their school performance is going down. Grandparents and aunts provide them with food and clothes. In the majority of cases the material aspect is taken care of. But considering their successes at school, it is hard for an old person to look after a child,” one administrator mentioned.
LBC often times have responsibilities outside of school. Household activities that were taken care of by parents are now the duties of children. Because of this, finding time to study can be hard.
Experts, parents and teachers alike are concerned for what may seem inevitable: LBC dropping out of school. “The risk of dropping out of school goes up. It all begins with the fact that the child left without any care is late because he or she forgot to set the alarm and then…” says a representative of the District Department of Education, Youth and Sports involved with the UNICEF study.
A study of 250 middle-school aged LBC in rural Hubei Province found that more than half of the students experienced difficulties adapting to the absence of their parents and performed poorly in school. “Parental migration has not given children left behind a significant advantage in educational prospects as their parents had hoped. This is unfortunate, because one of the primary reasons for migration is to better provide for one’s children,” says Yao Lu, facilitator of the study The Education of Children Left Behind in Rural China.
Although the education of LBC seems a bit hopeless, UNICEF provides some comforting information: some teachers and administrators are recognizing the struggles of LBC and are extending a helping hand.
Many times this is difficult because parents planning to migrate do not notify school administrators. Additionally, LBC often hide their difficulties to avoid being the center of attention and to prevent their parents from learning about such difficulties.
For some LBC, teachers are the only people the can approach to share and consult with difficult subjects. “Sometimes we also accomplish this role, to get close to them, to discuss with them and even to caress them. We try to fill the gap created in their souls by their parents’ departure,” explained a teacher involved with the UNICEF study.
This issue tugs at the heartstrings of Global Children’s Vision. Much of our work is aimed at providing a safe and comfortable place in schools for a community of LBC to study, learn and freely communicate with their families. We dream to change the lives of countless LBC, and part of that dream is ensuring that they understand the importance of school and are encouraged to work hard for their future.
Garvriliuc, Cezar. “The Situation of Children Left Behind by Migrating Parents.”UNICEF Study Report (2006)
Yao, Lu. “Education of Children Left Behind in Rural China.” Journal of Marriage and Family (2012).