03/11/2006, 00.00

20 million migrant children discriminated in public schools

It is hard for them to get a place in schools in large cities, because they are not recognised as residents there. Often, their only option is to attend private schools run by volunteers.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The tragedy of China's migrants has many faces: the 130 million workers, who move from rural areas to seek work in big cities on the eastern coast, take with them at least 20 million children under 18 years of age. It is practically impossible for these children to find a place at school.

In Beijing alone, there are around 300,000 migrant children. The municipal government admits that 80% do not attend higher secondary school (for children aged between 13 and 18 years) and 70,000 do not attend school.

Each citizen is obliged to have a "hukou", a residence certificate, which is "urban" or "rural". Those with "urban" residence have access to education and health services supplied by the municipal authorities. But they lose their rights to land and the house they left behind in the countryside. So many prefer not to register.

Han Jialing, professor at the Social Sciences Academy of Beijing, said that in 2003, a study of 31,000 migrant families in Beijing revealed that 20% lived off 500 yuan per month and 43% had an income of between 500 and 1000 yuan. Annual school fees were 1,200 yuan for primary and 2,000 yuan for junior high school (from 13 to 16 years), more than rates paid by residents.

In 2003, the central government said the city must provide for the education of migrant children living there, and ordered the elimination of discrimination. Since 2004, migrant children pay the same as residents, by order of the municipal Education Commission of Beijing. This means a maximum of 267 yuan per semester for primary school and up to 355 yuan for junior high school.

But there are other discriminations in the capital. Education administrators in the central district of Doncheng fear that accepting migrants may mean lessening the average school's performance, with a consequent loss of money.

In fact, in Beijing, between 80,000 and 90,000 children still attend one of between 350 to 400 private schools run by volunteers or by migrants. These schools, which cost around 500 yuan per year, are characterized by a lack of facilities and minimal means, and many are unauthorized, risking closure. Teachers are underpaid. But it is only thanks to them that many children can have an education.

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