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Protecting the rights of China’s migrant children

© UNICEF video
Children dancing with red lanterns at Da Di Day Care, Shi Jiazhuang, China. Many of the children here are from migrant families who came from rural areas to look for work in the city.

By Kun Li

SHI JIAZHUANG, China, 5 July 2006 – The most populous country in the world is on the move. It’s estimated that more than 10 per cent of China’s population has already left their villages and hometowns in search of a better life.

The huge demand for labour has led to mass migration, as millions of farmers descend upon cities. At the same time, family migration is also on the rise.

“Some studies indicate that there are about 140 million migrants in China,” says UNICEF Child Protection Officer Marc Ono. “When people move from rural areas to urban areas, they often take their children with them. Because most of these children don’t have household registration in the cities, they face different kinds of discrimination.”

As a result of this migration, many children are denied access to free primary education in their host communities. Migrant workers often pay more than twice the standard fee to get their children into a decent school or day care facility. Migrant children are also frequent targets of prejudice, as many of them speak with regional accents and dress differently than city children.

© UNICEF video
Sun Na, 15, plays ping-pong with her friends at a community centre. Through a UNICEF-supported pilot project, volunteers organize activities to help migrant children like Sun Na make friends with children from host communities.

Integration into host communities

Sun Zongxia and his family are part of China’s huge migrant population. Several years ago, they moved to the city of Shi Jiazhuang, a provincial capital in Northern China, from their small hometown in the south. Mr. Sun started a small business selling groceries to support his family, hoping one day to live comfortably and even get rich.

Mr. Sun’s family lived virtually unnoticed within a tightly knit community. Considered to be an ‘outsider’ and excluded by local children, his daughter Sun Na, now 15, began to confine herself to their apartment.

“I was always worried,” says Mr. Sun. “I wasn’t sure if she was doing all right. She had no friends and no places to go to after school.”

For Sun Na, life took a turn for the better as a result of a pilot project launched by China’s National Working Committee for Women and Children. With support from UNICEF and active involvement from the children themselves, the project is designed to protect the rights of migrant children, helping them integrate into their host communities.

Making new friends

Neighbourhood volunteers now organize frequent activities like ping-pong and badminton games in Shi Jiazhuang, so that all children, local or migrant, can get together to play and make friends.

© UNICEF video
Children playing at Ming Tian Day Care, Shi Jiazhuang, China. The facility now charges the same fee to all children, including those from migrant families.

The volunteers also help raise awareness among local residents, encouraging them to be more accepting towards their migrant neighbours. After all, it is their labour that has helped fuel the city’s growth and prosperity, as well as China’s economic transformation.

Sun Na now goes to the local community centre after school and sometimes even on weekends. “I like to come here and enjoy many of the activities,” she says. “I can get to know other children and we learn from each other.” She and 15-year-old Yuan Xin, a girl from the neighbourhood, have become best friends.

Knowing that his daughter is happy and doing well, Mr. Sun can finally have peace of mind. “Now she has a place to go and a chance to play with others, and that really helps me to be more concentrated on my business,” he says.

New policies on equal treatment

The pilot project also reaches out to grade schools and kindergartens, where policies have been changed so that migrant children can benefit equally alongside local children.

“Half of our children are migrant children whose parents came here to look for work,” says the Deputy Director of the Ming Tian Day Care Centre in Shi Jiazhuang, Cui Ying. “Based on this situation, we made a few new rules. We now charge the same fee for all children, and we also opened weekly and monthly day-care services to help migrant parents who are too busy with work. ”

As China continues to grow at an incredible pace, the number of workers migrating along with their children will continue to rise.

“It’s true that a lot of rural children go to urban areas with their families, but there are also many children who are left behind, whose rights and well being are overlooked,” says Mr. Ono. “We need to address their needs in our upcoming programmes. And we are also thinking of replicating the current models that we have created for migrant children, so that more children can also benefit.”




3 July 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on efforts to protect the rights of migrant children in China.
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