Mainland authorities are for the first time counting the number of rural children left behind by parents who moved to work in cities.

A phenomenon that has persisted for more than a decade, “left-behind” children, often lacking parental love and education, are estimated by researchers to number more than 60 million.

Several ministries will launch a joint survey this year to find out the exact figure so that each of them can receive assistance, the China Youth Daily cited an official from the Ministry of Civil Affairs as saying.

Migrant juveniles, whose parents moved from the countryside to the cities but took their children with them, will also be included in the survey. They are estimated to number about 36 million.

Ni Chunxia, deputy head of the ministry’s social affairs ­department, said there was no ­authoritative data on the issue, despite it having long been recognised as a serious social problem.

Left-behind children, who are often taken care of by their grandparents, or in some cases simply abandoned, have roused growing public attention as they are ­frequently involved in suicides, accidents and incidents of juvenile delinquency.

Last year, a boy and three girls aged between five and 13, who lived in poverty near Bijie (畢節) in Guizhou, killed themselves by drinking pesticide. Their father was working away from home at the time.

And in 2012, five left-behind boys living on the streets in Bijie were found dead in a large ­rubbish bin, having breathed in carbon monoxide while burning coal to keep warm.

Ni said 27 ministries would soon begin participating in a joint conference on how best to care for left-behind children.

She said that the ministry had established a separate section to protect the rights of such minors.

A directive by the State Council last month ordered local governments to build a database of these children.

The authorities are required to have one file for each child and each file should be updated on a regular basis.

In a State Council meeting ­before the directive, Premier Li Keqiang admitted that left-behind children had become a complicated problem that could not be solved in the short term.

Lawyer Li Ying, the director of the Beijing Yuanzhong Gender Development Centre and an ­activist in helping left-behind children, said building the ­database was essential to providing better care and support.

Li Ying said that while support and services from the government and non-governmental ­organisations were important, even more crucial was encouraging the children’s parents to return home and ensuring that they had a viable source of income in their home towns.

“After many years of services, I really think that we can’t replace parents after all,” she said.

“We saw many tragedies and learned that the absence of parents not only means a lack of caring for their daily life, but also a lack of fundamental education, about telling them what’s right and what’s wrong.

“The authorities should focus more on luring their parents back home, such as creating jobs and improving their social insurances,” she said.

“That way, their children can enjoy normal family love.”

By MANDY ZUO Mar. 28, 2016 on South China Morning Post

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