China's "Left-Behind Children" Can't Be Ignored Anymore

A school sex-abuse scandal has reignited concern for those left most vulnerable by China's rapid migration and industrial expansion.

Time to help China's 61 million of "left-behind" children
Time to help China's 61 million of "left-behind" children
Liu Jinsong


BEIJING Recent news about a school principal spending the night with primary school girls in hotels in south China’s Hainan Province have shocked the public.

The primary school principal has been sacked from his job and is being prosecuted for rape. Meanwhile, at least another eight cases of sexual assault on schoolgirls have been reported in the past month or so.

Aside from these cases, which have been covered by the media, nobody really knows the extent of the harm done to the massive number of “left-behind children” in China – the children whose parents are migrant workers who have gone to the cities to work in the country’s factories.

According to a study by the Anhui Medical University, the incidence of unintentional injuries among left-behind children living in rural areas is as high as 47%. This is 13% higher than for children who live with their parents.

Added to the injuries, left-behind children also suffer from lack of emotional support, which is more likely to be overlooked. When their parents leave to find work elsewhere, they are mostly left in the care of their grandparents, relatives or family friends. Sometimes they are even left unsupervised. Unlike other children, they don’t have their parents to care for them, and much too often, their grandparent do not have the energy or capability to look after them, not to mention giving them emotional support.

The absence of such support and care seriously influences the healthy psychological development of these children. According to statistics, currently as many as 57% of China's left-behind children suffer from psychological problems. They also account for 70% of China's juvenile delinquency.

Photo: Joan Vila

An even more pressing issue is the fact that the number of left-behind children is still growing. According to the latest statistics, they are now more than 61 million, accounting for 22% of China's children. This is three million more than five years ago. Giving them a healthy upbringing isn’t just about providing this vulnerable group with the care they are entitled to and deserve -- it is also a necessary condition for the healthy development of Chinese society.

Mobilization of society as a whole

Apart from granting these children access to school buses and free lunches, we should also give them our solicitude. Along with helping to feed and clothe them, we should not forget that they also need comfort and support.

NGOs have been trying to help these children find the emotional support they need. One of their programs, called On The Way To School, invites celebrities and volunteers to read or tell stories and records them on MP3 files, which are then given to the children. This aims to give comfort to children who don’t have their parents around to read stories to them.

However, NGOs don’t have the capacity to help all 61 million of left-behind children. Truly helping them would require the mobilization of society as a whole.

Of course, if we want to see a radical improvement in these children’s living conditions, we need to make institutional changes – such as improving equality in compulsory education, social security and reforming the backward hukou household registration system.

Photo: JonParry

It is because of the hukou system that there are left-behind children in the first place: The household registration system bans migrant workers from accessing public education and healthcare, so their children are forced to stay home in the rural regions. Those children who do follow their parents to the city are not allowed to enroll in local schools.

The reforms we need are arriving too slowly: so what can we do in the meantime?

We should at least adhere to the bottom line of resolutely preventing and countering the words and deeds that undermine the rights and interests of children and destroy minors' physical and mental health.

We need to develop guidelines specifically targeted so that these rural children have the most basic security, education, psychological and personal well-being guaranteed by society.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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