While China’s industrial revolution has made themselves into a powerhouse and propelled them to the status of “world power”, the greatness has not come without consequences. Right now, there are still over 60 million children classified as left-behind.
In 2009, the massive labor migration in China began. People migrated from rural villages to the cities in the hopes of finding higher paying jobs in order to better support their families. The people migrating often have children that they are unable to bring with them, typically for environmental or economic reasons.
The factory-laden areas that most migratory workers move to are filled with smog. This smog is dangerous to breathe in (especially for vulnerable children) and also infiltrates the water systems, making it unhealthy to drink. Furthermore, most parents do not have the money to bring their children with them, due to their inability to attain a “Hukou” – an official household residency permit that grants access to social services. The lack of a Hukou restricts the workers’ household registration and education opportunities. Because of this, parents are forced to leave their children behind with a relative, typically a grandparent.
While relatives can provide the basic needs of the child —food, shelter, education— these left-behind children suffer greatly from the psychological effects of having absent parents. 34% of left-behind children are at risk of committing suicide and 70% have mental health problems. In June 2015, four ‘left-behind’ siblings committed suicide by consuming pesticide. These children – one boy and three girls – ranged from five to thirteen and had been abandoned by both parents. This is not an isolated case.
In addition to mental health problems, the children often do not receive proper supervision as their caretakers have work of their own. In November 2012, a group of five left-behind boys took shelter from the cold in a trash bin. They tried to keep warm by lighting a fire but ended up dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Parents usually come back to visit their children once or twice a year during holidays, however, despite this, many children reported that they have not seen their parents for many years. Because of this separation, children often grow disconnected from their parents, feeling as if they do not even know them anymore. Additionally, surveys have found that left-behind children experience lower levels of life satisfaction, school satisfaction and happiness, whilst experiencing greater levels of loneliness in comparison to their peers. These children are inherently disadvantaged, making it difficult for them to break the poverty cycle.
Currently, many schools in China have implemented social support systems. These systems intend to help aid the children’s psychological development and to improve their general well-being. While these systems are helping, it is impossible to fully mend the emotional damages caused. Many children though, still receive no help.
Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao