The status of China’s migrant children

In April 2023, the National Bureau of Statistics, UNICEF, and the United Nations Population Fund jointly released a report titled “Child Population in China 2020: Facts and Data.” It revealed that in 2020, there were 138 million children in China affected by population mobility, accounting for about half (46.4%) of the total child population.

Among them, 71.09 million were migrant children (children who move to the city with their migrant parents), and 66.93 million were left-behind children (25.16 million in urban areas and 41.77 million in rural areas).

In the same year, China had a total of 108 million children unable to live with both parents due to various reasons, marking an increase of 30.46 million since 2010. Of these, 89.22 million were affected by population mobility, including 66.93 million left-behind children and 22.29 million children unable to live with both parents due to mobility.

In November 2023, the National Bureau of Statistics released the “China Statistical Yearbook 2023,” unveiling that in 2022, the number of school-age children from migrant worker families in compulsory education dropped by 77,300 compared to 2021, totalling 13.648 million.

Primary school attendance for these children decreased by 142,500, but junior high school enrolment increased by 65,300 in the same period. In the same year, there were 10.866 million left-behind children in rural areas during compulsory education, a decrease of 1.126 million from 2021.

Understanding the Situation of China’s Migrant Children in 2023

I. The data

  • The scale of migrant children has significantly increased since the 1990s, with 2021 showing 3.85 million more migrant people than in 2020.
  • In 2020, 138 million children were affected by population mobility, accounting for 46.4% of the total child population.
  • Detailed breakdowns include 71.09 million migrant children (23.9% of the total child population), with 14.62 million crossing provincial borders and 56.47 million moving within the same province.

II. The challenges

  • The education journey for migrant children becomes challenging due to household registration limitations, resulting in difficulties in enrolment, family separation, and relocations.
  • Suggestions are made for policies to support migrant children’s education, including access to affordable schooling options.

What can be done by the Chinese government to support migrant and left-behind children in China?

  • Implement a residency registration system promptly, ensuring that essential public services are available in residents’ locations and welcoming migrant children as local residents.
  • Promptly amend Article 12 of the ‘Compulsory Education Law’ to enable school-age children and adolescents to enrol without exams.
  • Local governments at all levels should guarantee that kids can attend schools close to their homes, especially in cities with an influx of people. Plan and build various schools, including kindergartens, primary, middle, and high schools, to increase the availability of school spaces. This ensures that more kids left behind can have an equal opportunity for education in the city where their parents live.
  • In urban areas with a high concentration of migrant populations and in rural communities experiencing a population decline, strive for complete coverage of community children’s facilities. This way, every child from a migrant family can easily access affordable and community-oriented after-school services.