“I got up really early this morning to fix breakfast for my younger brother before he went to school,” wrote sixth grader Yang Haijiao in her diary recently. The government was distributing water on the side of the road, and she had to take the day off to collect it.
“The water has been gone completely in the past two days,” she wrote. “Grandma has been ill for days. I can’t expect her to get the water.”
Like many of estimated 85 million other “left behind children,” the young Guizhou Province student too often misses school to assume the responsibilities of an adult, while her parents live and work in a city far from home. This is the one of the prices of the Chinese regime’s economic growth model, which has brought astounding GDP statistics, but more than 30 years of fractured families and emotionally wounded children.
Struggling to support their families, millions of rural parents leave their villages to seek work in factories in the cities. Their children are left at home with their elderly grandparents, or other relatives, or even alone. The care of the children is often limited to basic living support and safety, while education, behavior, and psychological needs are often neglected.
I could not help crying whenever I thought that when the bus arrives, my father will leave.
— Yang Haijiao
Because of their low income and the strict household registration system in China, which makes it difficult for children to attend school anywhere but in their hometowns, most migrant workers’ children cannot go with their parents, reports Deutche Welle. There are few local boarding schools for these children, and few schools for migrants’ children in the cities.
In Their Words
“The Diary of Chinese Left-behind Children,” a collection of reflections written by 26 children from southwestern China’s Guizhou Province, documents the plight of these children in their own words. Their teacher, Yang Yuansong, compiled and edited the narratives, which describe what statistics and studies could never convey.
Burdened with the responsibilities of an adult, Yang Haijiao missed school every other day to take care of her grandmother, or the family farm. “The weather is terrible. The drought has lasted for too long. If it rained, we’d have water and I would not have to miss school. I really don’t want to continue missing school!”
When it did finally rain, she had to plant corn.
The overwhelming responsibilities are accompanied by the sorrow of separation. Yang Haijiao writes of the misery she felt at seeing her father leave: “I could not help crying whenever I thought that when the bus arrives, my father will leave and we will be left with many chores at home, and we won’t know when he’ll be back.”
When her father asked why she was crying, she didn’t respond. He reminded her to “study hard.” Yang writes: “I kept crying until father got on the bus.”
Another student, Xia Min, wrote of Xia Congli, her classmate who was left alone at home, “One day on the way to school, Xia Congli told me her mom and dad are leaving to work at a far away place and she started to cry. I told her not to feel bad and said her parents must have felt sorry, too.”
The note continued: “We often played games with her when we went to her house and hoped she would forget about the sad things. But she can not. She is still feeling as sad as before. I feel so bad.”
The daily pressure of this bitter life has left many children with psychological problems. According to a survey by Women of China, 57 percent of high school age left-behind children suffered from mental health problems. The longer their parents have stayed away from home, the more serious were the psychological problems the children developed.
The survey showed that most of the left-behind children are prone to psychological problems because of the lack of affection or family supervision and guidance. They become weak, introverted and exhibit low self-esteem. The separation from their parents often caused resentment and loneliness.
Learning disabilities are common in left-behind children. Frequent school absences and little, if any, help with homework coupled with the emotional trauma of the fractured family have left these children with few resources for gaining a proper education. The survey by the All China Women’s Federation reported that 45 percent of grandparents had never attended school, and 50 percent only had a primary education, and could not be expected to help the children with their schoolwork.
The left-behind children of Youji village of Guangxi are boarded at a primary school. School principal Lu Lipeng explained to Deutsche Welle: “The responsibility is immense. Their parents have all left for work and left their children at the school. Being a principal, their personal safety is my number one priority. Secondly, it is their room and board. They must be cared for like my own kids.”
Other left-behind children are not so fortunate, and must face difficult and even dangerous situations alone. Some of these vulnerable children even lose their lives. A 2005 flood in Hetang County, Hunan province killed 12 children, eleven of whom had been left behind.
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