China has 61 million children left behind in rural areas by parents working in cities

Poverty and red tape in cities deny children schooling and health care. This has generated high risks of accidents and juvenile delinquency. In 2015, China had 247 million migrant workers.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – In China 61 million rural children are left behind to live without parents, this according to a survey on internal migration by the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

For most of the year, these ‘left-behind children’ do not see their migrant parents working in the country’s richer coastal cities. This comes with human cost that can be measured in terms of accidents, sometimes fatal, involving in minors and in juvenile delinquency.

The main reason for the situation is that whilst Chinese cities need the labour of migrant workers, municipal authorities – especially in big cities like Beijing – often deny their children essential services such as schooling and health care.

The low incomes and poor housing conditions of migrant workers make it all but impossible for children to accompany their parents to the cities.

The problem of left-behind children is most severe in Anhui, Henan and Sichuan provinces, the key sources of migrant workers, where 44 per cent of rural children live without their mother or father. This is far higher than the national average of 35.6 per cent.

The Chinese government realises the problem. In February, the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued guidelines to local authorities to improve the physical and psychological health of such children; however, poverty and red tape make the task beyond the reach of migrant workers.

Last year, China had 247 million migrant workers aged on average 29.3 years. Whilst the group is younger than the national average, they are ageing more quickly – their average age was 27.9 in 2013.

Two-thirds of migrant workers earn between 2,000 and 5,000 yuan (US$ 295-740) a month. Only 5 per cent make more than 8,000 yuan (under US$ 1,200) a month.