According to a report by China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the 253 million migrants who left their rural homes in China for urban jobs left behind 58 million children, 40 percent of whom were under the age of 5.

In recent years, China’s intra-provincial, rural-to-urban migration has become a growing phenomenon as people move to pursue a better life. However, many are leaving behind children at a critical stage in their development. Without exposure to family intimacy and social support, there’s a greater risk of physical and psychological problems.

In early May, at the “International Conference on Civil Society Contribution to Policy Innovation in China,” researchers from Beijing Migrant Workers Home and professors from the University of Nottingham spoke about these “left-behind children,” calling for help from the public and private sector to improve support for the children’s education, behavior, and psychological health.

I took away several highlights from the presentation:

  • Schooling system: Schools can help by establishing a record system and through one-on-one counseling with teachers to provide emotional support. Schools also can consider introducing resources such as dormitories so that children can live on campus and telephone access for kids to call their parents.
  • Government policy: Government can provide additional funds and policies to overcome some of the challenges for the children, their teachers, families, and schools. One example is the resident “Hukou” system that helps children access state-provided health and education. The government also can improve the current educational system to address factors such as school fees and differences in curriculum between cities and the countryside, which affect children’s ability to transition between schools when their parents move.
  • Family support: Left-behind children’s guardians (most commonly their grandparents) need guidance on how to provide a safe and healthy home environment for children to promote their development.
  • NGOs: Chinese NGOs help increase public awareness about the social issues associated with left-behind children. Some nonprofits, such as foundations, have dedicated funding to support programs that help left-behind children; others provide volunteers to communities or conduct research and pilot projects that can be used to influence government policy.
  • Business: Companies can help by considering the broader social issues that their workers care about, such as their left-behind children. They can support parents in their workforce by, for example, providing an educational booklet or training workers on ways to communicate effectively with their children.

Ultimately, the need is clear: Helping left-behind children will require more dialogue, collaboration, joint research, and support from stakeholders such as schools, parents, village communities, academic leaders, volunteers, policy makers, and business.