According to the All-China Women’s Federation, 58 million children of migrant workers are brought up hundreds of miles away, usually by grandparents. Sometimes children are left in home villages because both parents work. But this separation of families is more often caused by China’s complex registration system.
Currently the ‘hukou’ system of household registration means that China’s people are only entitled to access services such as health and education in their home town or village. The system also registers each citizen as either a town or rural dweller. Many migrant workers move from the countryside to find employment in the cities. But here, they do not have the same rights as city residents and this is why many workers opt to leave their children at home.
In Beijing, migrant workers who did not want to be separated from their children have built their own schools where their children can receive an education. Now the BBC reports that 24 of these schools have been closed down and several thousand children have nowhere to go now the summer holidays are ending. Though the authorities have said places will be provided at state-run schools for these children, it remains uncertain when or if this will happen. Some families are angry and believe the move is part of a wider goal to force migrant workers out of the capital.
Since the schools were closed just a few weeks ago at the end of July and with no consultation, parents have been left wondering what to do. Teachers at the schools are also at a loss to know how to respond. The BBC’s reporter spoke to the head of one of the closed schools, who confirmed that all the running costs were met by student fees and that no money came from the state. In this school, there is now a stand-off between the head and his staff, who have invited the children to attend as normal and the authorities, who have said the school must be closed.
Official statistics put the number of migrant workers in Beijing at 7 million people, out of a total population in the capital of 19 million. If the policy of closing migrant schools continues, this could be a huge problem for many working families. Some cities in China are experimenting with reforms of the ‘hukou’ system. But Beijing is not one of them and this latest decision only seems to add to the divide between those who have rights in China’s capital and those who don’t. One mother whose two children wait to see whether their school will be allowed to stay open summed up the situation to the BBC - “we’re migrant workers – we have no power, no status and no rights”.