The Leftover Children of China

*Originally published on RYOT.org on July 28th, 2015 by Sean Sawyer*

Four siblings – aged 13, 9, 7, and 5 – killed themselves in early June by drinking pesticides, according to International Business Times. Horrific news for sure, but these children may have just become martyrs. The suicide of these four siblings is hardly the first case of children killing themselves in rural China. The larger issue here is that children are getting left behind in rural China by the millions as adults are migrating to the cities for work.

In this incident, the children had been living on their own after their mother abandoned the family causing the father to go find work in the urban province of Guangdong, roughly 600 miles away. The father left the children ill-prepared essentially causing the children to fend for themselves. They eventually withdrew from school and eventually causing them to take their own lives on Tuesday.

The children left behind are usually left under the guardianship of their grandparents, but this isn’t always ideal. Many of the older generation are illiterate, which does not provide a household that values education often leading children to drop out of school. About 3% of the children left behind have no grandparents and are left to fend for themselves.

The migration of workers from rural China to urban areas is considered to be the largest domestic migration in history. It all stems from Mao’s China being dissolved in 1976 creating a large opportunity for private companies to grow. This created huge factories and available jobs that encouraged rural workers to leave their farms and family behind in search of higher wages in the cities. In the early 1980s, about 80% of China’s population lived in rural areas. But since the rise of urban China, as of 2013 only 47% of the population still lives there. The growth of the economy and private business lead to huge inflation rates in the mid-90’s. The urban areas were able to sustain the inflation because of their large incomes, but the rural area was diminished as their money started to become useless. This created an obvious and huge disparity between urban China and rural China.

Rural China is constantly subjected to the Chinese government’s neglect as they focus on the economics of urban China. Their land is being ignored making many of the roads difficult to travel. Parts of rural China are almost anarchical. Major crimes do not get reported because of a neglectful police force, election fraud is common, and crime rates and gang activity are soaring. This does not create a suitable environment for children who are left behind, making them prime targets for violent attacks and sexual abuse.

After the last incident of child mortality that grabbed headlines in 2012, the government declared it was dedicated to aiding rural children who have parents working in urban areas. “The role of parents cannot be replaced, and the best way is to ensure that the children go with their parents as they migrate to other cities to work. For decades, we have merely required a workforce from the migrant workers. If we do not provide them with more social benefits, similar cases will take place again and again,” said Tang Jun, a social policy researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, about Tuesday’s incident.

The abandonment by their parents and the lack of government aid screws these kids over. This is the sixth recorded incident of children dying in rural China in the past 7 years. 20 million children drop out of school because of the lack of funding and quality of the education system in the rural areas. These children that are left behind are obviously subject to higher rates of psychological problems.

“Teachers should receive psychological training to monitor the mental state of children. The key is to identify the children who might have mental problems and ensure that there will be intervention in time,” said Li Yifei, deputy director of the Scientific Communication and Education Research Center at Beijing Normal University. “However, there are few teachers or psychological workers in regions where the left-behind children are concentrated.”

The Chinese government’s desire for economic hegemon status has caused them to surrender basic human rights. 25% of China’s population doesn’t have access to safe drinking water, 88 million people in China live on less than $1 a day, more than 5 million Chinese children are child laborers, and there are an estimated 450 cancer villages across China, according to the New York Times. It’s about time that the Chinese government starts to care about their citizens. The government cares more about their economic image than they do about 60 million kids being abandoned by their parents.

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