Left-behind children in China

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Left-behind children in China (Chinese: 留守儿童; pinyin: liúshǒu'értóng) is the phenomenon of parents from the country's rural areas leaving their children when they move to urban areas to seek work. Children are left in the care of relatives such as grandparents, family friends or others. In some cases the carer may be unsuited or unable to give adequate care for physical or financial reasons, leading to developmental issues such as vulnerability to becoming a victim of human trafficking, become involved in criminal activities or suffering depression. A census identified over 60 million left-behind children with 40 percent of these under age 5 and 70 percent seeing their parents less than once a year.


Industrial revolution has taken place in China since the 1980s. Rural population rapidly migrate to urban areas for better salary and employment rate. Under the household registration system, people can only enjoy social welfare in their hometown. Therefore, parents are forced to leave their children in rural area for free education and other social welfare.

The problem of left-behind children was first reported in the national newspapers, such as People's Daily, Guangming Daily and China Youth Daily in 2004. It aroused attention from the whole country and researchers started to investigate this social problem.[1]

Current situation[edit]

According to the 6th Population Census in 2010, there are approximately 61 million of Left-behind children in China, that is 21.88% of children in China.[1] They are not only from economically underdeveloped central-west area, but also economically developed cities like Jiangsu, Guangdong and Shandong.[1] The south-western and north-western part of China are more severe than central or eastern part. However, the common phenomenon for these area is that mother in family with female child (under one-child policy in the past, family were allowed to have a child only, either male or female) tend work in other cities and leave the child. The traditional Chinese patriarchy, that is prevalence towards male children might be the reason why mother tend to leave girls at home as left-behind child but not boy. Mothers may face pressure from extended family or divorced due to having female children.[1] As a result, some of them are forced to leave the child and work outside.

The 60% of left-behind children do not know the occupation of parent.[1] The 30% of them can only meet parent once or twice a year, while 15% of them cannot meet parent once a year. Nearly 25%, which is 15 million of children receive contacts from their parent less than 4 times a year.[1]

Most of the left-behind children receive free education from government in their hometown. They perform similar to normal children on academic result and having similar time for playing.[1] Their time spent on housework is a little higher than other children.

The pocket money of left-behind children are similar to others.[1]

Teachers are not familiar with the left-behind child in the class.[1] They cannot tell how many students are left-behind child and under-estimate the number.[1]


Safety problem and mental-health are the most concerning issues for left-behind child. People nowadays generally treated left-behind child as problematic group of children.

Safety Problem[edit]

According to research in 2014, 49.2 percent of left-behind children were once injured, compare to 42 percent for normal children. The percentage of children slashed, burned, attacked by animals, and injured by falling were also higher than normal occurrences in children by 5.3, 1.6, 3.9 and 3.1 percentage points respectively.[2] They also account for 61% of new admitted patients in child hospitals,[3] and 55.2% of child sexual harassment cases in China.[4]

Bijie city in Guizhou province has been hit hard by incidents involving left-behind children. In 2012, 5 left-behind children lit a fire in rubbish bin for warmth. They then died from carbon dioxide inhalation. In 2014, 12 girls were threatened and raped by their school teacher. 11 of them were left-behind children..[5] In 2015, 4 left-behind children lived under domestic violence attempted suicide by drinking pesticide.

Other events are as follows:

In 2010, five 6-grade students from Baoji City, Shanxi Province attempted suicide in the temple of their village. They recovered after being sent to the hospital. Four of them were left-behind children.[6]

In June 2011, a 10-year-old boy in Xian Lantian province drank 500ml of pesticide after telling his elder brother he was going to commit suicide. After this, the boy's brother moved to live with their parents in the city they were working in.[7]

In 2013, 3 siblings from Nanchang city, Jiangxi province drowned while playing in a pool, and later died. Their parents were working outside at the time.[8]

In Jan 2014, a young boy committed suicide in a washroom because his mother contacted him, saying she couldn't come back for the Chinese New Year.[9]

In June 2015, 2 sisters were poisoned by a left-behind girl. The girl keep asking their teacher when can she go to school during her oral confession in a police station. She was clearly unaware of the consequences of killing. She did not receive proper education from her parents.[10]

In Oct 2015, 3 boarders committed burglary in a primary school dormitory and killed the female supervisor. They then went to cybercafe, and stole 2000 RMB and a phone.[4]

In June 2016, 2 left-behind children accidentally drunk pesticide and died after being sent to the hospital.[11]

Mental health Problem & Behaviours[edit]

These are the major psychological performance and behaviours of left-behind child:[1]

Low self-esteem - They have feeling of inferiority, but at the same time very self-centred. They are not confident to their appearance and intelligence.

Emotional - They tend to have psychosomatic disorder, which is caused by emotional problem, anxiety and depression. They are rather hostile and feeling lost. The younger or female left-behind children perform more frequent on the above problems.

Defence mechanism - They tend to attribute their own fault to others by self-defence mechanism such as fantasy, rationalisation or regression.

Hatred - They hate and blindly resist their parents.

Inter-personal relationship - They are more introvert and stubborn. They are the target of bullying school.

Play hooky - Left-behind child, especially boys, tend to skip classes or even leave the school.

Misconduct - They are vulnerable to cigarette, alcohol, or even gambling, shoplifting and robbery.

Bad habit - Their living habits are worse comparing to other children in school dormitory. They have lower satisfaction to livelihood.

*Left-behind child with mother leaving their house perform worse than left-behind child with mother at home in the above behaviours.

The performance on the above behaviours depends on the resilience of children. Some children actually perform better than normal children in academic results or other behaviours. The determining factors could be the age, sex, age of becoming left-behind child, frequency of meeting or contacting parents and communication way with parents.

Left-behind child from north-western and south-western part of China are more pessimistic than child from central or eastern part.


According to a small-scale research, 37% of left-behind children aged 14–16 thought of committing suicide, 12% once planned to commit suicide and 6.3% once committed suicided but fail. Children have more than 60% chance of considering suicide when either father or mother left home for work.[12]

Criminal rate[edit]

Criminal rate for juvenile increase 13% yearly in recent years. Left behind children's criminal rate is 70% higher than other juveniles.[13]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Li, Yifai (2015). Left Behind Child Psychological Condition White Paper. Beijing Normal University Scientific Communication and Education Research Center. pp1-3
  2. ^ 心文 (2008-01-01). "全国农村留守儿童状况调查". 中国生育健康杂志. 19 (4). 
  3. ^ 龚晓芳 (2007-01-01). "对4280例留守儿童住院患者健康状况的调查". 现代临床医学. 33 (5). 
  4. ^ a b "留守兒童恐釀巨大危機 學者:前景可怕 - 大紀元" (in Chinese). 2016-03-31. Retrieved 2016-07-11. 
  5. ^ "毕节老师强奸案 12女生受害_中国新闻·时事_新京报电子报". epaper.bjnews.com.cn. Retrieved 2016-07-11. 
  6. ^ "陕西5名小学生相约喝药自杀 多为留守儿童--人民网教育频道 中国最权威教育网站--人民网". edu.people.com.cn. Retrieved 2016-07-11. 
  7. ^ "10岁留守男童喝下半斤敌敌畏自杀 "与学校无关"". 潇湘晨报. 2011-07-06.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  8. ^ Copyright@中国时刻网、深圳广播电影电视集团. "南昌:三兄妹溺水身亡 家人入院_国内_新闻_CUTV深圳台". sztv.cutv.com. Retrieved 2016-07-11. 
  9. ^ chinanews. "深度报道:母亲不回家过年 安徽9岁留守男童自杀-中新网". www.chinanews.com. Retrieved 2016-07-11. 
  10. ^ www.bjnews.com.cn. "12岁少女毒杀童年唯一玩伴_深度_新京报网". www.bjnews.com.cn. Retrieved 2016-07-11. 
  11. ^ "留守儿童惨剧 两幼童误喝农药亡". Radio Free Asia (in Chinese). Retrieved 2016-07-11. 
  12. ^ "14~16岁留守儿童心理状况及自杀倾向分析". 中国公共卫生 (in cn). 25 (8). ISSN 1001-0580. doi:10.11847/zgggws2009-25-08-05. 
  13. ^ 尚晓援. 中国儿童福利政策报告 2011. Vol. 201. 北京: 北京师范大学壹基金公益研究院, 2011(included english version in pdf). http://www.bnu1.org/uploads/soft/1_110601085027.pdf