China to protect migrant workers' 'left-behind' children

Children in a kindergarten for migrant workers' families, Beijing (file photo - April 2012) Image copyright AFP
Image caption There have been concerns for the welfare of children left behind when their parents move for work

The Chinese government has issued new guidelines to protect children in rural areas whose parents have moved to cities to work.

An estimated 61 million children are "left behind" by their migrant parents.

Many people can only access public services in the villages they come from, so migrant workers' children stay behind to keep up their education.

Rural governments will be asked to monitor the welfare of children who live alone.

Parents will be encouraged to take their children with them when possible.

In 2013 a spate of sex abuse cases involving "left-behind" children shocked China.

Millions of migrant workers have moved from the Chinese countryside to cities in recent decades. The World Bank predicts that by 2030, up to 70% of Chinese people will live in cities.

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Many children are left with extended family members but circumstances force some to live alone.

In June 2015 four "left-behind" siblings died of apparent pesticide poisoning. They were all under the age of 14 and their parents had left the village in search of work. The police did not rule out suicide.

Household registration

In December the Chinese government announced it would offer residency status to some of the migrant workers who have moved from rural areas in recent decades.

It means migrants will be entitled to use public services, such as health and education, where they live, rather than in the villages they come from.

They will be able to apply if they can show proof of work, study or housing in a city for six months.

Under the hukou system of household registration, all Chinese people must be classed as either urban or rural. The hukou system was set up in the 1950s to control the movement of people between cities and the countryside.

Until the changes are fully implemented, rural governments are being told to support these children, says the BBC's Celia Hatton - a difficult challenge for overburdened and underfunded officials.

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