Parents contemplating on accepting employment that would practically leave their children behind without day-to-day primary care might overlook the potential psychological impact created by such condition.
A “home” is different from a house. To a child who has to learn how to cope with the difficulties and challenges thrown at him or her by the outside world, a “home” is where he or she can find solace, comfort and security. Things are a lot different when children have to deal with their fears and anxieties by going back to just a house and not a “home.”
In European, Asian and South American countries, parent migration has been found to have caused not only adverse effects on the physical health but also on the mental well being of uncared for children. China for one has a phenomenal number of children left behind by parents who find work in distant places.
It is estimated that in China’s countryside alone, the number of left behind children under age 17, has reached an estimated total of 69 million in 2017. Their circumstances and conditions have presented serious problems that turned into a national tragedy.
A Brief Look-See at How Parent Migration Has Affected China’s Left-Behind-Children
Lack of economic and social infrastructures in China’s rural areas is said to be the root cause of why China’s “left-behind-children,” keep growing in numbers. Chinese parents engage in work found in coastal cities, without regular means of transport to take them home at the end of a day’s work. As a result, migrant parent-workers in China do not see their children during most of the year.
At first, the arrangement seemed to work out fine for rural Chinese families. However, as the numbers grew, it became evident that lack of biological parent-support combined with inaccessibility of infrastructures created adverse impacts not only on the physical well being of the left-behind-children; but also on mental health. They are unable to acquire quality education and develop healthy social relationships.
One example of the difficulties faced by left-behind children was exemplified by the image of an 8-year old boy named Wang Fuman. A picture of Wang went viral, showing the boy arriving in school with frost-covered hair and eyebrows, after having walked 2.8 mile (4.5km) in a freezing – minus nine degrees Celsius. Wang’s story thrust the plight of the left-behind-children of China into the spotlight, but at the same time raised more than US$300,000 in donations for poor rural families in China.
However, Wang’s case was a rare story of a left-behind-child having a happy ending, The boy’s living condition improved since Wang’s father was offered a construction job located at a closer distance, while his mother who had left them to work in the city, returned home.
Tragedy was more common. In 2012, five boys wanted to stay warm inside a dumpster by making a fire out of charcoal. All five died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
In June 2015, four left-behind-children ranging in ages between 5 and 13, and belonging to one family, altogether committed suicide by drinking pesticide.
Two months after the suicide incident, and in the same area, two children of a migrant parent-worker, were found stabbed to death.
It is not that the Chinese government is not doing anything about the problem. The State Council of China issued a set of guidelines on how local authorities can improve the physical and psychological well-being of left-behind-children. The debate among Chinese statesmen though, is whether they are doing enough to solve the problem.