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Migrant Lives

Children Left Behind: Migration, Education And Crime In China

New data shows high crime rates among children of the millions of rural migrants who moved to Chinese cities - both those brought along with their parents, and the 'left-behind' children.

Just for laughs?
Just for laughs?
Liu Jinsong

BEIJING — The Beijing Higher Court has just released its annual work report for 2013 with regard to court cases involving minors. One of the most eye-catching statistics is that migrant workers' offspring are responsible for an alarmingly high proportion (65.3%) of juvenile delinquency. At the same time another detail, very often overlooked, shows that the same minors are also the ones most likely to have their rights violated and to be the victims of sexual abuse.

The report states that there is very often a problematic family behind each of these “problematic youngsters.” We know, for example, that migrant workers have to strive to survive in the city and have little time to attend to their children. They miss out on providing both the protection and guidance that their offspring need.

Many are these children wind up either staying at home alone or commuting between home and school by themselves where they can become easy targets for criminals. Moreover, the fact that migrant workers rarely attend to their children means they do not get the warmth from home and are more prone to behavior such as skipping classes, fighting, and dropping out of school.

Once lured by criminals, they are mostly likely to become perpetrators themselves.

We understand that inadequate family education and protection are the key reasons why non-Beijing household children are much more vulnerable to becoming criminals. A good family educational environment and atmosphere is a necessary prerequisite for the healthy growth of children.

When we point fingers at the migrant workers’ family education we should also reflect on China’s lack of quality education and social relief.

As the report revealed, migrant workers mostly belong to the vulnerable group of society who bow to realities just in order to be able to feed themselves. Though most of them don’t spend enough energy for their children’s upbringing, the fact that they at least bring their children to the cities is already a hard choice.

Children left behind

The truth is that most migrant workers are forced to leave their children behind in the rural areas — there are as many as 60 million of these children, because of China’s discriminatory education system and obsolete social security system.

Just like their migrant peers in the cities, the “left-behind” children who are deprived of parental love and care are also prone to get into trouble much more easily. According to data, 57.14% of China’s left-behind children suffer from psychological problems while also accounting for about 70% of China’s overall juvenile delinquency.

Education is a nation's system engineering. It requires the participation of families, schools and the broader society. The negative impact resulting from any missing link is to be assumed together by the entire society.

Obviously migrant children miss out on getting sufficient family care, but even more so from the schools and society. Whether they follow their parents into the cities or stay in the countryside they have mostly drifted away from mainstream society.

If we take Beijing as an example, recently the capital's authorities have failed to improve school admission conditions for migrant workers’ offspring, and in some cases have actually made it even more exclusive. Even if they manage to get into the so-called "migrant workers’ children schools," a parallel non-governmental-run system, they are still a marginalized group outside of society’s central framework.

By contrast, the United States might offer a good measure worthy of study. In February, America launched an assistance program aiming to empower young minority men. Named "My Brother’s Keeper," the initiative will receive, over the next five years, $200 million of funding to improve the conditions of the disadvantaged through education and employment, thereby also reducing juvenile crime rates.

Though there exists certain relief programs to vulnerable groups in China, the investment efforts fall far short. Moreover, the government fails to take children’s education issues into account as a priority when formulating broader national policies.

Children represent a society’s future. The more we invest on our education, the more harmony we’ll create for the future of our nation.

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Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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