China´s country-side has a generation of left-behind children, children who grew up while their parents worked in the big cities, some with their grandparents, some even alone. Author Zhang Lijia visited four-year old Diandian, who lives with his grandparents and writes up his story at her weblog.
Migrants use more or less the same rational when they decide to leave their children behind: they need to go to the city to earn money in order to provide their children with a better education and a better future.
“This separation is obviously hard for everyone one,” I continued. “Is it the hardest on his mother, or his father, or Diandian?”
The grandpa, who has been listening politely, said firmly: “It is the hardest on us who have to look after the land as well as the children. And one of them needs a lot of care.”
“Will Diandian go to Beijing to be with his parents when he starts school?” I filed another question. “No,” the grandma shook her head, with her her usual polite smile. “It’s too difficult for a migrant kid to go to a local school in Beijing.”
For the moment at least, that’s the case. China’s “Hukou” – family registry system, introduced by Chairman Mao back in 1950s as a way to control the follow of population, divides the Chinese into rural and urban population, with the latter enjoying much better access to education, healthcare and other social services. At first, the migrant children were not even allowed to enter the local schools. Slowly the restrictions relaxed but many obstacles remain. There are also migrant schools, run by migrants for their children. Such establishments exist precariously in a grey area and the education quality is often substandard.
In his book Concerns for the Left-behind Children, which I read recently, author Ye Jingzhong discussed many negative effects: such children don’t always get proper care, guidance or help from their guardians, usually the poorly educated grandparents; they often feel lonely and more likely suffer from mental illness compared to those living with their parents; and they are extremely vulnerable to crimes, especially sexual assaults. Some desperate situations even led to suicide. Last June, four left-behind children siblings, all under 14, from a poor village in Guizhou, took their own lives.
By comparison, little Diandian doesn’t fare too badly, I told myself. I rose to say goodbye. I shook hand with the boy. “See you in Beijing?”
“In the summer,” said the grandma. “I plan to take him up to Beijing to see his parents. His kindergarten will be closed for the summer holiday then.”
“Grandma, how many more months before July?” the boy asked, yanking the woman’s arm.
“Only two months. I’ve told you many times already.”
I got on the grandpa’s motored tricycle, which would take me through the muddy paths in the village to the waiting taxi on the side of the main road. I turned around and waved at the grandma and Diandian, standing in front of the iron gate of their yard, hand-in-hand. I watched until the boy became just a dot.
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