China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2013/Oct

Plight of children left behind

How often have you found yourself or others talking about something, someone, a crisis, a disappointment or a bad experience; of being left behind? The experience might still arouse positive or negative feelings in you.

Nowadays, we read and hear about children being left behind! This usually refers to the fact that many families in China have to find employment in the big cities and cannot bring their children with them.

They are often left behind with the grandparents, but some are left with an older sibling. Both of these situations often have negative outcomes.

Children have to go to school in their hukou, or registered residential area, therefore they cannot go to the big cities with their parents as they would not be allowed to enter schools there.

Children and parents can make telephone calls to each other, but because of work and the distances from home, they might only see each other during the Spring Festival, which is also called Chinese New Year, when people have a holiday of around seven days.

Unfortunately, the children face many difficulties and even dangers during this long period of time without proper supervision and care from their parents.

They suffer from loneliness, frustration, depression and feelings of being unwanted.

In addition, their basic necessities of education and medical care for their overall development may be inadequate.

The China Daily, reported in its August 14 edition that 61 million children are left behind – accounting for 21.88 per cent of the child population. That is a rise of 2.42 million in since 2005.

Some grandparents would have been caring for their grandchildren since birth, but as the children grow older, so do the grandparents and often they run short of stamina to keep up.

Many rural children have to walk a long way to school, so some of them also stay in the school except on weekends.

For the last few months, newspapers have been reporting incidents of sexual abuse, especially in schools where the children stay during the week.

The news of sexually abused children has shocked the nation and has served as a wake-up call for everyone.

Lin Xiuyun, a physician and associate professor of psychology at Beijing Normal University, said in a report in the South China Morning Post on August 26, “Left-behind children are psychologically disturbed to begin with, even without having to bear the burden of sexual abuse. They face a much tougher road to recovery than regular children.

“The traumatic impact is worse, as they are often neglected and lack parental love. They tend to develop trust and intimacy issues, and often lack a sense of security.” Lin attributes the high occurrence of sexual abuse to China’s culture of shame that inhibits discussion of ugly incidents.

She says, “Victims are often discriminated against, rather than being shown compassion and accepted by society,” adding that the children of migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to attacks.

These children are also involved in traffic and drowning accidents and, worst of all, some are kidnapped by criminals engaged in human trafficking.

The newspaper reported that six girls were molested and infected with sexually transmitted diseases by their teacher in Jiangxi.

They say they only want two things: one is to be with their mother and the other is for the man responsible for their suffering to be sent away so he cannot hurt anyone ever again.

For at least five months, the girls have been suffering from genital warts containing a strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV) after being subjected to continual sexual abuse by their teacher for nearly two years.

Doctors say the children are at an increased risk of cancer if they do not receive proper treatment.

The All-China Women’s Federation analysed hundreds of cases of sexual abuse at schools and found that 60 per cent of such incidents occurred at village-level schools.

The Jiangxi abuse was not discovered until one of the girls was reunited with her parents during the summer break. Parents reported the case to police on July 4. Their teacher, 62-year-old Tao Biaogong, was detained the next day.

Ruichang officials say the teacher will be charged with molestation.

The local government has paid for the victims’ medical fees and provided each of the families a daily living subsidy of 100 yuan ($126).

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin’ (Luke 17: 1-2).’

Nations have signed on to protect children

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) advocates the protection of their rights, helps meet their basic needs and expands opportunities for them to reach their full potential.

The agency is guided in this by the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.

A legally binding instrument

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social.

In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them, because people under 18-years-old often need special care and protection that adults do not.

The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognised that children have human rights too.

The convention sets out these rights in 54 articles and two Optional Protocols.

It spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.

The four core principles of the convention are non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child.

Every right is inherent to the human dignity and harmonious development of every child.

The convention defines children’s rights by setting standards in healthcare, education, legal, civil and social services.

By agreeing to undertake the obligations of the convention, national governments commit themselves to protecting and ensuring children’s rights and they agree to hold themselves accountable before the international community.

States party to the convention are obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in light of the best interests of the child.

Are all nations making laws to protect and ensure children’s rights according to the convention?

Just recently, there was an article in the China Daily newspaper asking for stricter laws to check child abuse.

The September 23 report states that a series of child abuse cases had hit the headlines recently: four steel needles inserted into the body of a baby girl by her biological father, a seven-year old girl drowned by her stepmother; and little children in kindergarten beaten up by teachers.

Such atrocities have appalled people across the country and left them wondering how children can be better protected. Unfortunately, existing laws are not powerful enough to deter potential offenders nor ensure punishment of the perpetrators.

Often, police don’t investigate minor child abuse cases. To protect the children of the nation, child abuse laws should be used to deter potential offenders and child abuse should be made a crime.

Like their counterparts in other countries, Chinese too believe children are the future of the nation, but if the nation cannot provide them with a safe and sound childhood, how can they expect them to grow up and lead the nation?

According to the World Health Organisation, a child who suffers abuse is vulnerable to many physical, emotional and behavioural conditions, such as obesity, depression, suicidal tendencies, accidental pregnancy and risky sexual behaviour. There should be stronger laws.

The China Daily also reported on August 14, that an 18-month pilot programme, organised by the China Children and Teenagers’ Fund in Shanxi, would start in September.

Students in the fourth grade, or higher (aged 10-years-old and up) from four schools, would be taught basic sex education and their parents would assist with the training.

Xu Xiaoguang, director of the fund’s international department, explained that the course would use a framework of suggestions for the protection of vulnerable children formulated by the UN, but adapted to the local situation.

“We should not hesitate to educate the entire generation to protect children from harm,” Xu said.

How are other nations responding? As Christians, how are we, our Churches, schools and friends responding to this need to protect children? The news about these left-behind children came from the public media of China. I would like to know how the Catholic Church in China is responding.

Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10: 14-16).