Changes in Hukou System May Improve Life for Left-Behind Children



GUANGZHOU, CHINA--Chen and his wife were perplexed. Every time they talked to their daughter, she complained that she was in pain and begged them to come home from Guangzhou where they were staying as migrant workers.


Everything seemed to be going smoothly while Chen and his wife were away, but suddenly the phone calls between them and their nine-year-old daughter became distressing. The young girl refused to tell her parents what was wrong, but she constantly cried about her mysterious pain and pleaded for her parents to return. Finally she revealed to them that she had been raped by her schoolteacher.


Chen was furious, but his daughter was only one of five victims this teacher abused. Sadly, instances of sexual abuse are common among the 61 million “left-behind children” whose parents have left home to seek work. The population of these migrant workers in China has reached about 262 million. Because these workers’ children lack sufficient adult support and parental care, they are highly vulnerable to abuse.


Sexual abuse is not the only danger left-behind children face. On November 16, 2012, five boys between the ages of 9-13 were found dead in a dumpster in Hong Kong. According to reports, the boys were killed by deadly fumes from charcoal they burned to stay warm. The boys were all sons of three brothers, and two of those brothers were migrant workers. Four of the boys received care from their elderly and blind grandmother, who had difficulty even caring for herself. Because of this, the boys had little to no supervision. They had been missing for three weeks before a trash collector discovered them dead in the dumpster.


Not all left-behind children experience significant trauma like this, but neglect and prolonged separation from parents can produce emotional challenges for them.


Fourth-grader Wei Renhua only sees his parents two or three times per year. He does not know much about them--including their names. Although Wei says he knows that his parents love him, he feels shy around them and pressured to do well in school to please them.


Long Xiaoling, a ten-year-old “left-behind child” also barely knows her parents. She has trouble at her boarding school and is afraid to take showers there because of the extremely cold water, but she does not feel comfortable discussing this with her parents. Every year Long’s parents return for Spring Festival and bring her new clothes, but these gifts do not ease her problems at school or the pain of separation. Long just wants her parents to stay.


Many times, migrant workers like Long’s parents can only go home for important festivals and holidays, but even this is not always possible. Last month, nine-year-old Xiao Chuang committed suicide upon learning that his parents would not be coming home for the New Year. Xiao had recently failed an exam, so he was already distraught, but the news of his parents’ inability to return proved too devastating for him to handle.


Lack of a parental presence has tremendous physical, emotional, and educational effects on children of migrant workers, but it also takes a toll on the parents themselves. A study done by the Center for Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility (CCRCSR) surveyed 877 migrant parents and found  that 82% of them felt inadequate as caregivers. Regarding their own work, 38% of the parents reported making frequent errors in work due to concern and stress about their children.


When millions of parents feel guilty and inadequate, and millions of children feel abandoned and lonely, society suffers. CCRCSR executive director Sanna Johnson points out that widespread broken relationships between parents and children are “very traumatizing” for a society.


So why does this happen? Why do parents leave their children behind? Much of it has to do with China’s hukou housing registration system. Every citizen is China is required to register for a housing permit in their birth city or town and their permit is labeled “urban” or “rural” accordingly. These permits entitle them to education, health, and social services, but only in the area in which they are registered. Rural hukou permits do not have the same access to quality education and social services that urban hukou permits have. Because of this, when parents go to seek better work in other cities, they leave their children behind so that they can still receive social and health benefits.


Recently, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has planned changes in the hukou system so that hukou registration will depend on place of residence and work location, rather than strictly birthplace. These changes, scheduled to take place in 2020, would greatly benefit China’s migrant workers and possibly encourage them to take their children when they leave rural areas.


61 million is simply an unacceptable amount of forgotten children. The scheduled hukou reforms will not automatically fix the relationships between migrant workers and their children, but they do provide hope of a brighter future for those families.


In the Old Testament, God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah to console the Israelites who were living in captivity in Babylon. Although the Israelites were living and working in a foreign place, God was always present among them and promised hope of return. In Jeremiah 29, God comforts the exiles through these words:


This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”


In many ways, China’s 262 million migrant workers are like the exiled Israelites. They are already foreign to the cities where they work, but their rural hukou permits set them apart even more from the other urban residents and prevent them from enjoying the same privileges. Despite these difficulties, the migrants’ need for work prevents them from returning to their homes and beloved families.


Yet, God has a plan and a future for each of these workers and their children. If migrant workers seek God, he promises that they will find Him. As we celebrate the upcoming changes in the hukou system, we must continue to pray for the millions of migrant workers and their children who still suffer the effects of separation.


When we seek God, He will listen. We ourselves cannot reunite millions of separated families, but God has a plan for those who feel lonely and isolated and He can bring them back together.


by Emilie, All Girls Allowed


All Girls Allowed ( was founded in 2010 with a mission to display the love of Jesus by restoring life, value and dignity to girls and mothers in China and revealing the injustice of the One-Child Policy.  “In Jesus’ Name, Simply Love Her.”



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