BEIJING — While September is the moment for most children go back to school or start for the first time, more than 80% of the approximately 500,000 school-aged disabled children from China's migrant families have never been schooled.
Twenty Chinese organizations have just published a public letter calling on the Ministry of Education to change the country’s Education Bill of Individuals with Disabilities to enable children with disabilities from migrant families to enroll in the schools closest to their homes.
The letter also urged the authority to reduce the discretionary rights of schools and add provisions to penalize those that reject these children, while also providing targeted public aid to migrant parents with disabled children.
The letter notes some improvement in recent years for many of the millions of rural families that have moved into China's cities, including easier enrollment at their neighborhood schools. And yet these advances have not reached families with disabled children, who have even greater need for services.
Due to China's household registration system, migrant families aren't officially recognized as local residents and therefore aren't covered by the local authority's preferential policy. Whether it's for entry into special schools, special classes or regular classes, disabled children are almost always directly or indirectly refused.
The schools possess a disproportionate power of discretion, and migrant families with disabled children have no effective way to get help.
A broken system
According to data about the disabled population from China’s National Bureau of Statistics and the China Migrant Population Development Report 2013, it's estimated that about two million handicapped children between six and 14 years old were illiterate in 2006. That means this disadvantaged group's illiteracy rate is as high as 81.3%. And in 2012, there were still 410,000 school-aged children with disabilities from migrant families, out of the national total of half a million, who had never been schooled.
According to Deng Qinggao, a staff member at the Xiamen Promise Of Love Information Consulting Organization, an NGO, ordinary schools typically push all disabled children to enroll in special schools catering to children with intellectual disabilities. But these schools are not designed for children who have just physical disabilities. Worse still, even these special schools often refuse students under the pretext that these youngsters are "incapable of taking care of themselves."
Though there is no law supporting the rejection of disabled children, Chinese schools set their own criteria for acceptance, which vary greatly from one to the next.
Meanwhile, parents lack legal support to defend their offspring's right simply because there is no relevant law to punish schools that refuse to take in these children, and China's 1994 Education Bill of Individuals with Disabilities is sorely out-of-date.
Yet again, the source of this particular problem is in the constraints of the household registration system, and the school registration that comes with it. Even public school enrollment of non-disabled migrant children is much lower than enrollment for local children. Often, as they get older, students are forced to return to the rural areas where their family's household is registered. Otherwise, in a majority of cities, they won't be allowed to sit for the college entrance exam later.