Wang Qin, a left-behind child, and her classmates dig wild herbs on Saturday in Guiyang, Guizhou Province.
"I feel guilty for not playing my role as a father to my daughter, and a son to my parents," said Gao Xiangzeng, who left his four-year-old daughter with his parents in Zhengning county, Gansu Province, and works with his wife in Shanghai. Gao`s daughter lost her life when her overloaded school bus crashed head-on with a truck on November 16.
According to Gao, he and his wife had intended to send their daughter to kindergarten in Shanghai, but they couldn`t afford the tuition fees at private schools. Public schools do not allow children with no local household residence (hukou) to enroll, so they had to send their daughter back to their hometown.
After returning home, Gao`s daughter enrolled at the Little Doctor Kindergarten.
"We had to send our daughter to Little Doctor Kindergarten as it is the only one in the county. As the rural area is poor, we could not ensure the school bus would not be overcrowded," Gao told news portal qq.com in tears.
Lacking parental care
More than 23 million "left-behind" children are under the age of five and may suffer from psychological disorders due to lack of parental care.
This data was released by Deng Li, head of the Department for Children at the Women`s Federation, at the 2011 international symposium on early childhood development.
"The number of left-behind children under the age of five, who consist of 40.19 percent of the total, exceeds 1 million in seven provinces including Sichuan, Anhui, Henan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guizhou and Guangdong," Deng said.
A staff member at the Department for Children at the Women`s Federation Sichuan office confirmed Deng`s statistics to the Global Times, adding that there were more than 3 million left-behind children in Sichuan Province at the end of 2010.
"There are 2.5 million left-behind children in Anhui Province at present but we have no statistics on the number of those under the age of five," Xu Fengqin, an employee with the Department for Children at the Women`s Federation Anhui office, told the Global Times.
According to Deng, the safety of children under five is not ensured if they are left behind in rural areas by parents who work in cities, and they may grow up in a poor environment with little monitoring.
But the most important problem that left-behind children face is the lack of parental care, which might cause children to experience a series of mental issues.
"Some parents may have difficulties affording the cost of living for children in the big cities and are forced to leave them in their hometown, but most are unaware of the importance of early education," Deng told the Beijing News.
Deng added that the parents of left-behind children under the age of five are usually young and will leave their children with the grandparents and seldom return home.
Zhang Xuying, a researcher with the China Population and Development Research Center at the National Population and Family Planning Commission, told the Global Times that since 1990 an increasing number of rural citizens are migrating to cities for work, which has led to a large population of left-behind children.
"The primary reason parents leave their children behind is they do not have enough money," said Zhang. "They don`t have a house in the city to raise their children, and don`t have any spare time because they need to work overtime and earn money."
According to Zhang, city governments offer few public services to migrants and their children. For example, hospital expenses for migrant workers are high because they are not provided with health insurance.
"Only when more public services are provided for migrant workers will they be able to support their children in the cities," Zhang told the Global Times.
"The rural governments can establish boarding schools to facilitate communication between left-behind children and their parents, as well as offer medical guidance to ensure they are sound in mind and body," said Zhang Xuying.
According to Xu, the Anhui authorities offered some services to left-behind children in their hometowns. For instance, more telephones have been installed so that children can call parents free of charge. The government also provides books and sports equipment for children to ensure they stay physically and psychologically healthy.
"We also dispatch university student volunteers to counsel left-behind children," said Xu.