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Chinese government policy shuts out poorest migrant children from urban schools, new study shows

May 7, 2002



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Human Rights in China (HRIC) today charges that some of the poorest and most disadvantaged children in China’s major cities are being systematically deprived of their right to education because their migrant parents do not hold the sheaf of permits that would make their stay in the urban areas "legal".

“China has created a bureaucratic obstacle course for migrant children that denies them the education to which they are clearly entitled," Nicolas Becquelin, Senior Researcher at HRIC.

According to available statistics, upwards of 1.8 million children are losing out on their right to education for this reason. In part this exclusion is part of a conscious strategy: municipal governments continue to see limiting access to schooling as a way of deterring further in-migration.

“Shutting out the poorest: discrimination against the most disadvantaged migrant children in China’s city schools,” A new report, is released as the United Nations convenes its Special Session on Children in New York on May 8 and soon after the international community has agreed to make ensuring basic education for children in poor countries a priority.

Human Rights in China urges the Chinese authorities to ensure that migrant children are able to exercise their right to education in the places where their families are living by adopting the following recommendations:

  1. Make education available to all children, regardless of their place of household registration.
  2. Eliminate discrimination against migrants by abolishing the distinction between local students and migrant students in all aspects of schooling.
  3. Eliminate discriminatory fees as step towards ending fee charging.
  4. In addition, the national authorities should take immediate steps in order to:

  • Combat popular discrimination against migrants, including children
  • Increase resources for education
  • Support independent schools and upgrade their quality
  • ake schools accessible to migrant families
  • Adapt education provision to needs of migrants
  • Increase provision of places for boarders

  • The report, based on official Chinese publications and interviews, examines the barriers official policies present to the realization of the right to education for migrant children in China. It outlines a system that discriminates against migrant pupils at best, consigns them to sub-standard education most of the time and deprives them of any schooling at all in some cases.

    As the Chinese government steps up its efforts to develop and “beautify” major cities ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, an increasing number of migrant workers are employed on construction sites and related activities across the country-but their children, and those of other migrants employed in low-wage jobs, are often denied the right to enroll in urban schools because they lack local registration permits.

    At least 1.8 million migrant children are currently not receiving education at all, according to available statistics. Even though Chinese law provides for nine years of compulsory education for every child aged 6 to 14, the actual figure of migrant children deprived of education is probably much higher, given that the size of China’s “floating population” is estimated at 100 to 150 million.

    The authorities regularly portray the adoption of “new measures” that they claim address this situation-such as Beijing’s latest “Temporary Regulations” issued in April 2002-as a complete solution to this problem. But in reality, as HRIC documents, such measures only target officially registered migrant workers, leaving large numbers of families, especially the poorest and most disadvantaged, without any avenues for schooling their children.
    Even when they are allowed to enroll in local schools, migrant children face discrimination in the form of higher fees than local pupils, even at a time when falling birth rates in most metropolitan cities mean that schools have extra capacity and could easily absorb the migrant pupils-official statistics indicate that Beijing has 300,000 surplus school places.

    In some areas, local authorities have gone to the extent of forcibly closing down private schools set up by migrants whose children are barred from regular schools: 50 such schools were shut down in fall 2001 in Beijing’s Fengtai District, with local officials attributing the action to a desire to “clear out low quality people” from the area.

    A major reason for the blatantly discriminatory policies in China’s major metropolitan areas, HRIC’s report shows, is that local authorities want to deter migrants with families from settling in the cities where they work-and this even at the expense of depriving hundreds of thousands of already unprivileged children of education and better future prospects. These policies and the discrimination they produce are clearly in violation of China’s obligations under international human rights law.

    HRIC also calls for the International Olympic Committee and the corporate sponsors of the 2008 Games to impress these recommendations on the Beijing municipal government.