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Life-skills programme helps migrant children in China cope with urban dangers

Image de l'UNICEF
© UNICEF China/2011/Liu
Siqi and his parents live in a factory dormitory in Wenling, China.

By Liang Ruoqiao

BEIJING, China, 21 December 2011 – “Now I can have dinner with both mama and papa every night!” said 9-year-old Xue Siqi, smiling from ear-to-ear.

Siqi hadn’t seen much of his father in the last eight years. His father worked in Wenling, a booming industrial town in Zhejiang Province, while Siqi and his mother lived in rural Henan Province.

But six months ago, Siqi and his mother moved to Wenling so they could all live together. Siqi – now one of China’s 27.3 million migrant children – suddenly found himself confronted with the unfamiliar dangers of city life.

“Some kids do not even know what a yellow traffic light means,” said Yang Xue, a teacher at Zeguo Dongfang Primary School, where all the 1,900 students are migrant children. “There are no roads where they come from, only dirt tracks.”

Helping migrant children adjust

Siqi must now walk 30 minutes to and from school, passing three intersections – without traffic lights – each way. Reckless drivers are known to speed past; road accidents are a largest cause of injury and death in China.

To help migrant children like Siqi, a special life-skills program was designed and funded by UNICEF and the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council. The program has two parts: Lessons taught in school by specially trained teachers and lessons taught to families through social workers.

“The lessons are very much needed in our school,” says Tang Yukun, headmaster of the Zeguo Dongfang Primary School. “Our children came from all corners of the country and a lot of them are lacking the awareness for self-protection.”

“This summer, there were six drowning incidents, all were migrant children,” said Teng Linhua, director of the Education Bureau of Wenling. Luckily, none were from Mr. Tang’s school, where all children in grade 4 and above take the UNICEF-supported life-skills course.

Image de l'UNICEF
© UNICEF China/2011/Liu
Children participate in a life-skill class in Wenling, China.

Educating the whole family

In spite of the dangers, children like Siqi are lucky. Most children of migrants do not accompany their parents to cities or industrial centres. Many see their parents only a handful of times each year.

“The best thing migrant parents can do for their children is to bring them with them,” said child education expert Zhu Diyun. “Living with parents before two years of age will help nurture the child’s sense of security and self-recognition, the foundation of one’s sense of being.”

Siqi’s father agrees. “I don’t want to leave Siqi behind again,” he said.

The life-skills programme aims to protect migrant children as they transition both to city living and to new social situations. In addition to basic safety issues, the children learn how to make friends in schools and how to better communicate with their parents.

“Family education is especially important for migrant children because most of them have not actually lived with their parents. For the kids, they need to adjust on two levels: getting used to city life, and getting accustomed to life with their parents,” said Ms. Zhu.

A family united

Now, when Siqi’s family sits together at dinner each night, he shares valuable new information with his parents.

“My son once came home and told me he’s been to the fire brigade,” said Siqi’s mother. “And he showed us how to use a wet piece of cloth to cover the nose and mouth with the left hand, and crawl out of the room on fire on the knees.”

Knowing that these lessons may one day be life-saving, Siqi’s father nods in approval. He is proud of what Siqi has learned and – even more – he is happy he gets to watch Siqi grow up.



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