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'Left-behind' Rural Children Numbered at 58 Million

The number of "left-behind" rural Chinese children, whose parents have gone to work in cities, is about 58 million, accounting for 21.72 percent of rural children aged 17 or less, said a report released on Wednesday.

More than 40 million "left-behind" children were aged 14 years or less, the report by the All-China Women's Federation found.

Boys were more likely to be left behind, and fathers were more likely to leave. There were more boys than girls, especially in the youngest age groups, with boys accounting for 53.71 percent of the total. And in the single-parent families, it was usually the father who had left for the city to find a job, the report said.

The parental absences often led to psychological, behavioral and security problems, the report said.

Among "left-behind" children aged below five, about 38 percent were cared for by grand-parents, who might also work in the fields. Many rural areas, particularly in the central, western and southern provinces of Sichuan, Anhui, Henan, Guangdong and Hunan, seemed to be missing a generation.

But the news was not all bad. The report found that the school drop-out rate among "left-behind" children was lower than that of other rural students, especially among the 15- to 17-year-old group. About 80 percent of "left-behind" children were in school, compared with only 70 percent for rural children in general, figures showed.

Official figures indicate that there are at least 140 million migrant workers; some media reports indicate the number could be as high as 200 million. They power the country's fast-growing economy by working, often far from home, as construction and factory workers, restaurant staff, domestic servants and drivers.

Zhang Shiping, secretary of the federation's secretariat, said that the report would provide material for inter-ministerial research on the issue and help establish methods to protect and care for rural children.

(Xinhua News Agency Februray 28, 2008)

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