The 'left-behind' generation

Updated: 2012-12-26 08:39

By He Na and Hu Meidong (China Daily)

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"He's my brother's son. My brother went to the United States five years ago. The boy was born in New York, but my brother works at a restaurant in a southern state," said Li Xiaoming. "The boy was sent to Guantou when he was eight months old. For the past four months, he has cried heavily at night and we know he's looking for his mom."

The 'left-behind' generation

Olsen sits with his aunt in front of the computer. At 11 am every day, he has a video chat with his parents in the United States. Photo by Cui Meng / China Daily

Large-scale emigration

Currently, more than 2,000 overseas-born children, known in China as "left-behind" kids, live with grandparents or relatives in Guantou.

"Almost every family here has some one working overseas. Although their footsteps cover more than 30 countries, most have gone to the US, Canada and Japan," said Lin Xiuzhu, president of Guantou Overseas Chinese Kindergarten, the largest in the town, where more than 90 percent of the students are foreign nationals.

"When I opened the kindergarten in 2005, there were only 80 foreign-born kids, but the number has increased sharply year by year. We have nine classes now and the number of kids has soared to 380. To guarantee quality of tuition, we no longer recruit children younger than 3," she said.

The 'left-behind' generation

Huang Jie is one of the children left behind in Fujian province by parents who work abroad. Cui Meng / China Daily

Other regions in Fujian, such as Mawei district in Fuzhou, Fuqing city, Changle city and Luoyuan county are also playing host to kids born to Chinese parents overseas.

Around 20,000 children with US nationality live in Fuzhou, said Zheng Qi, president of the Fukien Benevolent Association of America, quoted in the Fuzhou Evening News. If you include those holding other nationalities, the number could be as high as 60,000, he said.

Guangdong province and a number of other costal regions are experiencing the same thing. Enping in Guangdong has acquired the nickname "Little United Nations" because of the number of children born overseas.

Large-scale emigration means that the population of Guantou is mainly composed of elders and children. Most young people in the town hail from Sichuan province.

"Because most Chinese living overseas do manual work, in restaurants and suchlike, or run their own small businesses, the heavy workload makes the task of taking care of small children impossible, irrespective of whether they have been granted foreign nationality," said Lin Xiuzhu.

In addition, many countries have strict child-care regulations. If parents are perceived to be failing their kids and are reported, they run the risk of having their children taken into care. Some parents could even be imprisoned.

Many young couples see no alternative but to send their kids back to their parents when they are only a few months old. The kids are often taken abroad again aged 4 or 5 to attend elementary school.