China’s Children Left Behind by Climate Change and Urbanisation

These children are at greater risk of disenfranchisement, homelessness and poverty, and juvenile crime.  (Image: via   pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
These children are at greater risk of disenfranchisement, homelessness and poverty, and juvenile crime. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

A UNSW report considers China’s children affected by migration and climate change, and the necessary social policy reforms required to protect their rights. The expansion of protections for China’s migrant and “left-behind” children is essential for the nation’s continued economic and social wellbeing, according to a Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) paper.

While the government’s pro-economy approach has brought a degree of prosperity, this economic growth has resulted in inequities, and corresponding changes to child protection have been slow to catch up. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

While the government’s pro-economy approach has brought a degree of prosperity, this economic growth has resulted in inequities, and corresponding changes to child protection have been slow to catch up. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The landmark study, commissioned by UNICEF China, examines child rights in China in the context of migration, urbanization, and climate change. It approaches the issue from a human rights perspective and maps systemic changes to promote child protection in the future. UNSW SHARP Professor Bingqin Li, who led the research, said:

Rural families migrate to cities voluntarily or involuntarily, temporarily and permanently. She said:

Child migration or children being “left-behind” as a result of urbanization and climate change poses serious risks to children’s lives, development, and wellbeing. These affected groups represent a significant percentage of China’s population, and consequently, there is an effect on Chinese society and the economy. Prof. Li said:

Rural children who migrate to China’s cities can face institutional barriers to accessing quality education and healthcare, including discrimination. For example, Hukou, a system of population registration and an important record for social service access, for many years prevented rural children from entering into urban schools, and it is still difficult for them to attend university entrance exams in cities, she says, adding:

While the government’s pro-economy approach has brought a degree of prosperity, this economic growth has resulted in inequities, and corresponding changes to child protection have been slow to catch up, she says. There is a need to address this gap to ensure greater social and economic progress.

Child migration or children being “left-behind” as a result of urbanisation and climate change poses serious risks to children’s lives, development and wellbeing. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Child migration or children being ‘left-behind’ as a result of urbanization and climate change poses serious risks to children’s lives, development, and wellbeing. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Additionally, the vulnerable position of migrant children means they are more susceptible to exploitation. Associate Professor Xiaoyuan Shang, an expert in social welfare and child protection in China at SPRC and a co-author on the report, said:

Equally, children left behind in rural areas are at risk of alienation, neglect and abuse, and marginalization. The wellbeing of rural children would be improved through access to basic services such as healthcare, water, and sanitation facilities, the report found. Prof. Shang said:

While the government’s pro-economy approach has brought a degree of prosperity, this economic growth has resulted in inequities, and corresponding changes to child protection have been slow to catch up. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

While the government’s pro-economy approach has brought a degree of prosperity, this economic growth has resulted in inequities, and corresponding changes to child protection have been slow to catch up. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Complex problems demand cross-sector cooperation

The policy developments needed to improve children’s ability to secure their rights are not straightforward, Prof. Li says. They range from enhancements in health services and governance to accessible education, poverty reduction, and natural disaster responses. She added:

A number of important policy measures have improved the lives of migrant and left-behind children, particularly regarding access to, and quality of, healthcare and education. A rights approach can help to identify unresolved issues and provide benchmarks for further improvements. Prof. Li concluded by saying:

The Migration, urbanisation, climate change and children in China — issues from a child rights perspective report was co-authored by Professor Bingqin Li, Associate Professor Xiaoyuan Shang, Yawen Cui, and Dr. Megan Blaxland.

Provided by: Kay Harrison, University of NSW [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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