Earlier last month we covered a touching tale about Liu Minghui and his younger sister making thousands of wontons a day at their grandparents’ stall. The two siblings had been abandoned by their parents in Jiangxi province, a common occurrence in rural China:
In China, Liu and his sister are one among many millions of liushou ertong (留守儿童), literally translated into “left behind children.” They are the kids that have been left in the care of grandparents or no one at all, while their parents go to the cities to find jobs in order to support them. It’s an impossible choice that millions of parents have been forced to make. While it has accelerated China’s drive toward the future, it has also left millions of kids behind — with mental health problems and thousands of wontons to make.
Last week, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs released a survey of the number of left-behind children in rural China, providing a more detailed portrait of the amount of children living like Liu scattered throughout rural China in various levels of care.
According to the survey, a total of 9.02 million Chinese children under the age of 16 were not under the direct care of their parents. Of those 9.02 million, 360,000 were not under the direct care of anyone at all.
The survey revealed that the majority of children left behind by their parents lived in central and western provinces including Jiangxi, Sichuan, Guizhou, Henan, and Hunan.
It also found that 62% of them were aged between 6-13 years old.
While these numbers may seem shocking, they are also more than a little perplexing. After all, a 2013 report from the All-China Women’s Federation estimated that there were 61 million left-behind children in rural China.
While some state media outlets have gloated that are now “50 million less” left-behind children in rural China than before, it turns out that it’s not the situation that has changed, but the parameters. As Sixth Tone explains, while the 2013 survey looked at kids under 18, this new one looks at only kids under 16. Meanwhile, the definition of a “left-behind child” has changed to mean that both parents are away from home looking for work, rather than just one.
To help stem the tides, some local governments have imposed new legislation to prevent parents from leaving behind children to seek employment. For example, infants under the age of three in Jiangsu province must be looked after by their parents. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has announced a new clampdown in which parents could face prosecution and loss of custodial rights for leaving their children for a period of six months or longer.
Nonetheless, it’s unclear how these rules will be enforced and there are still provinces which have yet to take any action to ensure the well-being of young children.
The majority of these children are left without parental guidance; and at such a young age, it is not uncommon for them to develop depression and anxiety which could impact them significantly throughout their lives.
Children are empowered with the gift of time. It allows them to shape the future and change the world in ways that we never could. Yet, how is that possible when these children aren’t receiving the nourishing childhood they deserve?
To see children spend their days without the tender loving care of their parents brings sadness and sympathy to us all. Let’s hope that this newest government report will lead to constructive changes that will actually reduce the number of these “left-behind children” rather than relying on creative accounting.
By Christopher Shi
[Images via CCTV News]