Left-behind children (留守儿童) refer to those children who are cared for by a single parent or grandparents, usually residing in rural areas with their parents seeking employment in the cities.
According to a survey of the National Women's Federation, the number of such children now stands around 58 million, accounting for 28.29 percent of all children in rural areas. Among these children, 57.2 percent are looked after by a single parent, whereas 42.8 percent have no parents with them at all. 79.7 percent are cared for by their grandparents and 13 percent are entrusted to their relatives or parents' friends. 7.3 percent have no custody.
In September 2012, the Ministry of Education announced that the number of the children who follow their migrant worker parents to their place of work is over 12.6 million. And the number of left-behind children who should receive compulsory education stands at 22 million.
The left-behind children are going through a critical period of growth and development. The lack of parental attention and care will lead to various problems, even posing potential threats to their safety and psychological health. Worse still is this may propel them towards a life of crime.
Five left-behind children were found dead in a dumpster on the drizzly night of Nov. 16, 2012, in Qixing district, Bijie City of Guizhou Province. Their passing sparked a public outburst of grief, blaming the children's caregivers as well as the local government for failing to take care of them. Police said the boys had burnt charcoal in an attempt to keep warm inside their humble shelter, but thus suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning.
On Jan. 10, 2013, the Ministry of Education and another four departments jointly issued "The view on the strengthening the care and education of left-behind children in rural areas." It points out that such children, under the age of 16, should be registered, ensuring their inclusion in the education system and other public services. Additionally, the so-called "Three Priorities" should be reached.
Local governments should, preferably, establish the children's education system, improve their state of nutrition and ensure their transportation needs. The view also lists some specific objectives.
First, boarding schools in rural areas must ensure that each boarder has a standard bed. Second, dining registration and files of nutritional status should be established in poor areas which hold a concentration of left-behind children.
Finally then, schools or teaching points should be set up in a reasonable way, which may ensure a shorter commute and less traffic-related risks for these children.