Chinese workers from the countryside who chose to work in the big cities have caused 61 million children to be left behind in rural areas. They are entrusted under the care of relatives, family friends, and others who often do not have the financial means, physical ability or the knowledge needed to properly care for the children.
Studies revealed that around 70% of these so-called ‘left behind’ kids suffer from physical injury, emotional trauma, depression or anxiety, according to ABC. Cases of children reportedly ending up living in the streets, engaging in criminal activity, and becoming a victims of human trafficking or sexual abuse are very common, according to a Christian NGO called Children Charity International (CCI).
Experts believe that not having learned proper values from parents or having mental health problem will contribute to China’s future social problems.
“I can’t imagine what that would do to China,” CCI founder Joseph Lim told ABC news.
One child who was left behind is 13-year-old Li Yikui, who gets to see his mother once a year and has not seen his father in four years. Asked if he misses his parents, he merely he covered his face with his hands and sobbed. He is currently studying at Xiaping school in the rural town of Hefeng county.
In the school, around 40 % of the students are like Yikui, who spend their daily lives without their parents. These kids are observed to lag behind in their studies compared to their classmates.
“The left behind children lack the care and guidance of their parents. So they lack self-discipline to some extent,” Yikui’s vice principal Mr Xu Liang said.
Parents who are hoping to provide a better future for their children by earning more are willing to sacrifice their family life.
As a temporary solution, the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation has provided around 100 women last year to become “substitute mothers” for these children, with each woman caring for 300 to 500 children, reported China Daily (via Women of China).
“It is a model to solve the problem of left-behind children,” explained Liu Wenkui, secretary-general of the foundation. “The program aims to solve the lack of guardians. If parents are forced to leave home to earn a living and unable to take their children with them, we are looking for a transitional way to solve the problem.”
In the scheme, each village was provided a “children’s home” with “mothers” aged between 19 to 55 assigned to them.
“We want to hire full-time ‘mothers’ to guarantee they won’t be distracted by other work,” he said. “We want local candidates because they understand local languages and cultures.”
The organization may have to double or triple their efforts though as the World Bank predicts 70% of the Chinese population will live in cities by 2030, which means more children will be left behind. This is after the Chinese government recently reformed its residence system to provide migrants with better living standards in the cities.