“When people leave, they leave for necessity,” 13-year-old Karen said, regarding her parents who moved from el Xab, Guatemala to Tennessee more than a decade ago. Karen’s parents left her and her younger sister, Heidi, in search of a job to build a better life for their family.
When asked, Karen said that she would much rather have her parents than the roof over her head. “You are left sad because you can’t feel their love,” she explains.
Karen and Heidi’s parents are only two of the 120,000 Guatemalans that attempt to immigrate to find work outside of the country. According to a 2009 United Nations Children’s Fund report, many of these immigrants never return to their homeland and often families.
Unfortunately, the number of individuals emigrating from Guatemala is skyrocketing—and there are more left behind children in Guatemala than ever before. “Family disintegration is one of the negative effects of emigration,” says Erick Maldonado, Guatemalan vice minister for foreign relations.
Maldonado also mentioned that, with the absence of a family, many LBC are often lured into gangs or criminal activity. Guatemala, with 400 gangs and around 14,000 members, has the highest amount of gang activity in Central American countries, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report.
In addition, Guatemalan LBC often abandon their education in hopes that they will someday go to the United States, and many try to make the trip. According to UNICEF, about half of the youth migration from Guatemala to the United States is for the soul purpose of reuniting a family. Many LBC attempt to immigrate at a very young age, sometimes only 15 or 16 years old.
Left Behind Children are not only prevalent in China, but all around the world. For the parents of Guatemalan LBC, the United States is their destination. Follow GCV as we attempt to find a solution to this global problem, and change the lives of hundreds of LBC worldwide.
Treviso, Perla. “Children of Illegal Immigrants Left behind.” Timesfreepress.com. Times Free Press, 29 July 2011. Web.
“Deportations Destroying Community, Hurting Children.” The Guatemalan-Maya Center.
Growing up with little or no supervision, left behind children are incredibly vulnerable to developing mental instabilities and psychological issues.
“Experts are calling for better care and stronger intervention to deal with the psychological troubles suffered by children left behind,” says an article published by China Daily News.
Zhong Baoliang, a scientist working for the Wuhan Mental Health Center, after conducting a survey of 1,200 LBC explained that many now suffer from “learning disabilities, depression, social phobias and other troubles”.
Not only that, but Sang Biao, psychology professor at East China Normal University, said that, when compared to children raised by their parents, the unattended children of migrant workers are often more vulnerable to psychological troubles. These generally include depression and learning disabilities.
“They need more care for all of society,” Zhong Baoliang said.
Such children suffer from these disorders most likely because they have been deprived of something that is so important to the lives of developing children: parental love.
How can we expect a child to grow and mature without parental figures that are sensitive to their needs and interests?
According to a WorldCrunch article, the absence of such support and care “seriously influences the healthy psychological development of these children.” Currently, as many as 57% of China’s LBC suffer from some psychological problem or instability.
These issues are not being overlooked by leaders in China. Three years ago, the Care for Abandoned Children Fund was founded. “I aim to run the foundation… it’s not a charity to give out cash,” said founder Wang Guohua. “What abandoned children mainly need is care and motivation.” Currently, Wang Guohua is putting to work his idea to elect ‘role model abandoned children’. These elected children will hopefully inspire LBC around the country to feel valuable and motivated.
The Care for Abandoned Children Fund is currently doing great things in China. What the 61 million LBC need is care, motivation and love, and GCV is working to provide this to as many LBC as possible.
“China’s “Left-Behind Children” Can’t Be Ignored Anymore.” Worldcrunch.
“Left-behind Children Prey to Mental Ills.” People’s Daily Online, 11 Apr. 2011.
Nan, Wu. “Tragic Accidents Just Part of a Hard Life for China’s 60 Million ‘left-behind Children'” South China Morning Post, 15 July 2013.
Among the many challenges that left behind children face, sexual abuse is a prominent issue. Horrifyingly enough, much of the abuse is occurring in elementary schools. According to a BBC article, this past May yielded no less than eight sex abuse cases within a 20 day period in Jiangxi province alone, and all of the crimes were committed in schools.
Unfortunately, professionals believe that the sexual abuse cases that are exposed are only a small portion of the actual amount. “Behind every reported sex abuse case, there might be six hidden cases unreported,” says Wang Dawei, criminologist in the People’s Public Security University of China. Part of the problem, he explains, is that many rural schools are not properly teaching sex education. Without the knowledge, many children may not even realize when a sex crime has been committed against them.
A shocking event that occurred this past month brings this issue to life. A 62-year-old school teacher was arrested after he sexually abused six schoolgirls ages eight and nine, giving each of them HPV. All six of the children were left behind. After the incident, when reporter Mimi Lau asked them what they wanted most, they simply replied that they wanted to see their moms.
“The incident has shocked the nation and served as a wake-up call about child sex abuse in the country, particularly involving left-behind children,” says Mimi Lau in her article for South China Morning Post.
For left behind children, the “traumatic impact is worse, as they are often neglected and lack parental love. They tend to develop trust and intimacy issues and often lack a sense of security,” says Dr. Lin Xiuyum, associate professor of psychology at Beijing Normal University. Unfortunately, because LBC grow up with little supervision, they are more likely to become victims of sexual abuse.
What solutions can be made for this heartbreaking issue?
Lau, Mimi. “Left behind and Sexually Abused: The Peril of China’s Migrant Children.” South China Morning Post, 26 Aug. 2013. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.
Wu, Yuwen. “The abuse of China’s ‘left-behind’ children.” BBC News, 12 Aug. 2013. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.
The generation of left behind children currently emerging in China is vulnerable to physical hurt, because their personal safety is often jeopardized by the absence of parents. In the past few years, an increasing amount of LBC suffers death by drowning, poisoning, traffic accidents or fire incidents. This is partly because children of absent parents are relied upon for farm work, even though many of them are far too young to participate, increasing chances of injury. In addition, these children are often not properly supervised by adults. Professor Shang Xiaoyuan of the Research Center for Children at Beijing Normal University said, “The root cause is their lack of parental custody.”
Read more in this Global Times article.
One incident that sheds light on this issue occurred earlier this summer. In Wenqing Village near Nanchang City, three left behind children—siblings Luo Zhikun, Luo Danni and Lue Zhimo—drowned while playing in a reservoir at the entrance of the village. Because no one was around at the time, the bodies of the 10, 9 and 5-year-old were not found until late in the day. The children lived with their grandmother and their bedridden grandfather, who reside in the house closest to the reservoir. According to family members, the parents of the three siblings used to work in the village and were able to look after their children. However, they have worked in a hotel in the city of Zhuhai of Guangdong province for the past year.
Read the whole story here.
Without the support of their parents, who can supervise left behind children before more of them become victims? Solutions must be found for this social problem.
“I never dreamed of co-founding a nonprofit, but passion often brings strength to do things you didn’t know you could.”
During the summer of 2012, Becca Berman had the opportunity to work in Shanghai, China. During this time, she got to know many of her Chinese coworkers. “I would ask them about their families and I could see the pain in their eyes when they said, ‘my child is not here.’” At first she was confused and wondered, “Then where are they?” But as she talked with more and more people and researched the issue, she discovered that there are millions of left behind children (LBC) around the world. This led to helping launch Global Children’s Vision.
Becca is ecstatic to see how far the organization has gone in such a short amount of time. This summer she traveled alongside GCV around China to work with LBC and their families. Currently, she is busy in the United States with a variety of speaking engagements, spreading awareness about LBC, and planning GCV programs for the future. Becca is encouraged by the response that she gets from her U.S community. “People are constantly blown away by the issue and our mission. However, people’s desire to get involved is what encourages met the most from my community.”
Becca anticipates a bright future for GCV and the families that GCV has the privilege to serve. “GCV is a catalyst for change,” she says. “We can’t change the left behind children’s circumstances; however, we can help make the distance between families seem closer.” While working in China, she was inspired by the hope that GCV brought to LBC and their caretakers. Now, she is eager to continue providing these families with the resources that they need.
“The amount of lives that we can impact is limitless. That’s what makes our work so exciting. This issue is not going away anytime soon, but we can help to bring immediate relief.”
The issue of left behind children (LBC) is not restricted to the 61 million in China. Millions of LBC reside all around the world. Approximately 9 million, or 27% of the nation’s youth, are LBC living in the Philippines.
“Mobile phone parenting: Reconfiguring relationships between Filipina migrant mothers and their left-behind children”, an article by Mirca Madianou and Daniel Miller, explains the issue of LBC in the Philippians and how technology has changed the dynamic of families with LBC.
This problem arose in the 1970’s with the Middle Eastern oil boom, which demanded an influx of foreign workers. This intensified Filipino migration, and soon enough, a third of the Middle Eastern oil labor force was Filipino. Not only that, but Filipina women started to become recognized for their domestic and childcare work abroad. Since then, the Philippines has been known for being a major source of migrant workers.
Today, the Philippines has an annual migration of over one million people with a tenth of their population working abroad. Many of these workers are men and women who are already parents, but leave their children in the homeland.
Due to this major migration, the Philippines has been described as the texting capital of the world and helped coin a phenomenon called “mobile phone parenting.” Although the use of phone cards for familial communication is far superior to no communication, it does come with drawbacks. First, most phone conversations are restricted to 10 minutes because of phone card limitations. Second, it is significantly cheaper for parents abroad to call the Philippines, while international calling from the Philippines is more expensive. Consequently, a parent can call their children whenever they feel the need, but their children cannot afford to do the same.
Mobile phone parenting is commonly viewed in a negative light from the perspective of the children. Since phone conversations only last up to 10 minutes, there is only time to talk about practical things, such as health, schooling, and finances. “You don’t really have time to be closer,” one Filipino LBC stated.
Global Children’s Vision seeks to revolutionize this issue and practically provide a solution—open communication within families.
Read the full article here: Madinou and Miller 2011
If 58 million wasn’t alarming enough, a recent report by the All-China Women’s Federation reveals that the number of left behind children (LBC) in China has significantly increased. The official number of LBC in China is now over 61 million. That means 37.7% of all children living in China are growing up away from their parents.
Will this number continue to rise? Wang Zhenyao, the director of the China Philanthropy Research Institute at Beijing Normal University states that the left behind issue, if left unsolved, will pose a serious threat to the nation’s future.
“These children are the future of the nation and deserve our loving care and protection,” Wang stated.
Read more in this article published by the English Website of China News.
We believe in providing LBC with the loving care and protection described by Wang Zhenyao. GCV’s summer workshops promoted these same ideals. We educated the LBC caretakers on proper care of the LBC’s specific needs. This is the start of lessening the negative effects that plague millions of LBC.
The rising number of LBC stresses the importance of improving relationships between LBC and their parents. Every LBC should feel valued and supported. Action is needed now more than ever, join us in tackling this global issue.
GCV team member Christine Labbe recently returned to the States after travelling through Inner Mongolia, a province of China, where she shared GCV’s mission with locals and served as GCV’s photographer. Her message is an interesting one, and gives readers an insider’s opinion of GCV’s mission to empower the future generations of China.
LBC From Behind the Camera Lens
There is a term in China that I heard frequently during my three-week visit: lǎowài, which means foreigner. Unlike in the United States, the melting pot of the world, a stranger to China sticks out like a sore thumb. Therefore, being a lǎowài with a big camera, bright orange sneakers, and six words total of Mandarin under my belt really didn’t help me to blend in.
It’s an interesting thing to be a foreigner with the mission of capturing photos of kids who will either immediately open up to your presence, or recoil back into a fortress of impenetrable shyness. There were so many different responses to my and the camera’s presence (ranging from one girl in a fourth grade classroom audibly gasping when I walked into the room, to a four year old boy actually punching me in the arm while I was in his family’s store) that it was impossible to predict how the next child would react. This was a challenge, but in a way, it was also an opportunity to capture a unique array shots. Not every picture contained a big toothy grin or a melancholy frown; the variety of personalities made for a variety of photos.
I have been taking pictures for about two years now. This is the first time I’ve traveled halfway around the world to photograph children who have grown up in a completely different culture from me, who do not speak the same language as me, and whose situations are very difficult for me to understand. Meeting the left-behind children that I have heard so much about for so long was a surreal experience, and having the chance to photograph them is on another level. It is a completely unique opportunity, with completely unique subjects who have fascinating and heartbreaking stories. Putting a face to the stories for those who cannot personally meet these kids is what I strove to do, and I hope that I achieved my goal.
The chance to meet and spend time with left-behind children was invaluable. To be welcomed into their homes, meet their families, and see where they go to school and how they spend their time is a look into a completely different world. Whether they realized it or not, the kids opened up to me and the camera in a way that will help to tell their stories to many people who care about them— people whom they don’t know and may never know. I am so fortunate to have been one person that was able to spend time with them— even as a strange lǎowài from the other side of the world with a camera.
GCV Team Member
Wang Haotian is twelve years old and one of two hundred left behind children living in a small village outside of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. As GCV has been making its way through Mongolia, we have been connecting with multiple families with left behind children. Haotian’s story is particularly moving.
Haotian and his grandparents live in a small, one-bedroom house. Outside, they have the company of a guard dog, a mule, sheep and chickens. With no running water, the family survives on rainwater to drink and wash clothing.
We approached Haotian to ask him a few questions, and soon found that he is extremely shy and avoids eye contact. Later his grandmother explained that Haotian’s parents left to work when he was only ten months old. Nowadays he only gets to see his parents once a year. Haotian’s grandma encourages him to do well in school, but he is lonely and withdrawn. She believes this is causing his schoolwork to suffer. Haotian’s future was an emotional topic for both grandparents to discuss, and it is their hope that he will get a good education.
When we asked, Haotian couldn’t tell us what direction he wanted to go in after he finished school. We asked him what his biggest dream is, and he didn’t have an answer.
“To see the lives of LBC really brings your emotions into play,” GCV member Christine Labbe said after meeting Haotian and his family. “It makes you realize that there are real kids that need help. There are 58 million left behind children in China, but if we can help the 200 children in that village, I think that even makes a difference. That’s a lot of lives changed.”
This is one story of many. We hope to connect with and inspire many left behind children and their families on our journey through Inner Mongolia, China. Stay tuned for more information to come!
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.
In early May, GCV members Cheng Qian and Becca Berman took off to China to share GCV’s mission with locals in Anhui, China and service Left Behind Children and their families. Since then, they have been hosting events and getting to know the communities where they are hosted. In this way GCV is currently working to empower the lives of LBC.
Last week, after collaborating with The Committee for the Education of the Next Generation of China, they joined in a parent and guardian workshop at Sunshine Preschool in Qianshan. During the meeting, they discussed physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of children, including the importance of imagination and play in early childhood. Not to overlook the value of family, they also explained the important role of parents and grandparents in this development.
This program helped everybody gain a new perspective to early childhood education and learn about basic health care.
Over half of the attendees were grandparents and primary guardians of Left Behind Children, and they shared many stories of their trials. Some described the difficulties in educating their grandchildren. Many older members are not literate themselves, and this generation gap makes it difficult for them to discipline children and to find a balance of authority. Many times, their only goal for the children’s development is keeping them away from physical danger.
“It was helpful to hear individual stories that families with LBC faced in this region of China,” Cheng said after the meeting. “The event was helpful in bringing together a diverse group of people: GCV, the government committee, parents, and LBC grandparents, to learn more about troubles of parenting in grand-families.”
The speeches were recorded and shared through various media outlets in the area.
We hope that this workshop will enlighten parents and grandparents on basic health and education knowledge of children.
Hopefully more discussion groups will be formed in the future and many grandparents can learn about important factors in the development of their grandchildren. They are not alone in their battle!
Stay tuned for more updates on GCV’s work in Anhui, China this summer!