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China: Children who are left behind

Categories: East Asia, China, Human Rights, Humanitarian Response, Law, Youth

On November 12, several days before the International Children's Day, an explosion erupted in an illegal fire cracker factory in Guangxi which resulted in 2 children workers dead and 11 others injured.

According to the Southern Weekend's report, these children victims were left behind by their parents, who are migrant workers and have to work in cities all year long to earn money and support their families. They lived with their aging grandparents and struggled to work before and after school time to earn some pocket money for snacks.

The children workers phenomenon is not rare in Yanghui village where the tragedy took place. The lack of government regulation is part of the reason behind, but on the other, “if these children have their parents around and being taken good care of, we will not have such a big tragedy,” Yang Youji, the village party chief, was quoted as saying.

According to the 2005 population census, there were 120 million farmers who worked or did business in cities, and the number of children they left behind amounted to 20 million. 88.2% left-behind children could only contact their parents by phone, but 53.5% of them talked with their parents in less than three minutes.

Tong Dahuan [1], a Chinese blogger in Tianya, pointed out another social issue in this fire-cracker incident related blog post, “Who Should Apologize for the Tragedy of the Left-behind Children”:


In the past 2 years, surveys conducted in cities like Beijing and Shanghai showed that the crime rate of the second generation of migrant workers (the children of migrant workers) is three times higher than their local peers who are resident certificate holders. The bitter destiny of left-behind and migrant children is leading us to an unpredictable future.

Tong argued that it is the unfair education system that resulted in this kind of tragedy.


Hundreds of millions of Chinese farmers go to work in cities, but their children are often excluded by the cities they work in, or they are charged with higher tuition fees. There are no schools that are set specially for these children of migrant workers (migrant children schools are frequently shut down by education authorities in the name of substandard education conditions). Furthermore, under the dual systems of the resident registration plus student registration certificate (which shows the region the student geographically belongs to), even if the migrant worker children finish senior high school with great efforts and hardship, they can still be rejected from partaking the national college entrance exam. All these unfavorable factors lead to their separation from their migrant workers parents at an early age, who later become left-behind children with virtually no parents.

Tong said there have been a lot of criticism against the government’s outdated residents certificate system and education system since 1997, but there seemed almost no progress on these two issues.


China’s current residents registration system and education system have seriously infringed upon its citizens’s human rights, human morality, as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of Children which the Government signed in 1990 and the National People’s Congress approved in 1991 and which took effect since March 1 1992.


I want to ask, is it for the ultimate interest of children that the government doesn’t give children equal opportunities to receive education and take part in the national college entrance exam? Is it for the ultimate interest of children that the government separates children from their parents with the tool of residents registration system?

Another Tianya Blogger, Li Hui [2], questioned why the children workers are always the left-behind children?


Why the illegal children workers are always the “left-behind” children? What underlies this issue is not only the illegal employment of children workers, but more profoundly, it is an issue caused by China’s rural-urban dual structure, and the serious imbalance of education resources.

In the Southern Weekend report's comment section, many netizens left their comments, some blamed the residents registration system as the root of this tragedy.

For example, Yanchenyu [3] said,


The residents registration system is the root cause of the left-behind children tragedy. Urban population are enjoying the prosperity brought about by migrant workers, but they don’t provide due protection on migrant workers’ safety, neither do they provide education to migrant workers’ children.

li101947 [3] questioned the role of law enforcement:


How many children have suffered the tragedy? How many more are going to suffer the tragedy? Can’t there be organizations and regulations to safeguard these children’s rights and benefits? What have law enforcement done?