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Orphans ofthe Times


In China, a huge amount of children have living parents who hardly see them throughout childhood. They are known as “orphans of the times” or more literally “left-behind children.”

Prior to International Children’s Day on June 1, a report showed the tally of left-behind children in China’s rural areas above 61 million and still growing. The report evoked wide concern for left-behind children.

A Dilemma for Migrant Workers

Left-behind children stay in rural villages so they can attend school while their parents migrate to cities for better employment opportunities. Typically, they spend little time with their parents, and are raised by grandparents or other relatives and friends of their parents.

For geographical and historical reasons, various regions of China are tremendously imbalanced in terms of economic development. As China’s overall economy accelerated, an enormous gap between urban and rural areas emerged. In these circumstances, great numbers of rural laborers swarm to cities as migrant workers. Many of them are couples unable to bring their children along due to school enrollment restrictions and meager living conditions.

Left-behind children have already become a massive group that cannot be neglected. According to the Report on Left-Behind Children in Rural Areas and Migrant Children in China released by All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) on May 10, 2013, the country’s 61 million left-behind children in rural areas account for 37.7 percent of all rural children and 21.9 percent of total population of Chinese children. The majority of left-behind children live in major labor-supplying provinces such as Sichuan, Henan, Anhui, Guangdong, and Hunan. Those five account for 43.64 percent of the nation’s total left-behind children.

Abandoning their children to leave for work is a painful choice for migrant laborers. If they bring their children along, the kids face barriers and challenges in schooling due to the current hukou (household registration) system and often have difficulties adapting to urban life.

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