Beijing: China has over 100 million "left-behind children", meaning that about one-third of the country's total underage population are growing up without the companionship of their parents, posing challenges to the society.
"Some 100 million left-behind children now exist in China, posing a great challenge to social management," Song Yinghui, a professor at Beijing Normal University, who studied migrant labour issues, was quoted as saying by the state-run Global Times.
His observations came as China prepares to conduct its first comprehensive survey on the underprivileged group. Song told a seminar last Saturday that over 60 million children are left in rural areas while their parents work in cities while 36 million children are unregistered floating population, meaning they are left living in one city by parents who work in another. These figures greatly surpass the previous estimate of 61 million.
According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission figures, China has 254 million migrant labourers and their numbers were expected to cross 310 million by 2030.
Migrant labourers were widely credited to be the power behind China's massive economic growth as they served as cheap labourers for the country to emerge as the world's manufacturing hub and second largest economy.
The migrant labourers, mostly from the villages, leave their children behind either with aged parents and relatives or with friends, visiting them only once a year. The children had to be left behind as they can not get admitted in schools or health care centres other than the places where they were born.
Ni Chunxia, an official from the Ministry of Civil Affairs who also attended Saturday's seminar, did not immediately endorse the number, but said the country will conduct its very first comprehensive survey on "left-behind children" this year to find out the exact number and how big a problem the government needs to tackle.
In February, China's State Council released a circular that said that the government aims to significantly reduce the number of such children by 2020.
Qi Xuesen, director general of China Social Welfare Foundation, said the target for 2020 is in line with China's poverty alleviation target in the 13th Five-Year Plan.
However, experts have warned that the "left-behind children" problem should not be confused with poverty. "Left-behind children don't necessarily suffer economic woes but rather psychological ones. The poorest families we encounter are those whose parents are not migrant workers and who choose to stay in the villages," said Liu Xinyu, founder of an NGO which provides financial and psychological help to left-behind children.