|New Year Wishes from left-behind children. (Photo/Xin Hua)|
A system to register children in rural areas who have been left behind by their migrant worker parents will be established to ensure they receive compulsory education, the Ministry of Education has said.
China's rapid urbanization has led to a rising number of left-behind children, who have one or both parents working away from home, leaving them to be taken care of by grandparents or other relatives, according to a statement released by the ministry on its website on Thursday.
The number of such children in China stands at 22 million, the statement said.
According to a circular released by the ministry, local governments should improve their care of left-behind children in rural areas to make sure such children are not left unattended.
A new registration system will document all school-aged children under the age of 16 that are left in rural areas, to guarantee they receive an education, the statement said.
Yuan Guilin, an expert on rural education at Beijing Normal University, said because of government investment, the infrastructure at schools in rural areas has seen major improvements in recent years.
"However, it is still common for left-behind children to drop out of school. It is mainly because most of them are taken care of by grandparents or other relatives, and they receive less attention and care," he said.
Yuan said the authorities should make clear that guardians who fail to send children to school will be severely punished.
Experts said the lack of parental attention and care will lead to various problems for left-behind children, posing potential threats to their safety and psychological health.
In November, five children were found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in a garbage bin, which they had taken shelter in to escape from the cold in the city of Bijie, Southwest China's Guizhou province.
The fathers of four of the children were migrant workers in Shenzhen, who left the responsibility for raising their children to grandparents or other relatives.
Song Wenzhen, director of the children's division of the State Council's National Working Committee on Children and Women, called for migrant workers to give more care and love to their children.
"Many migrant workers return to their hometown once a year or even every three to five years. They should realize that no one can replace the communication and care that parents can give to their children," she said.
The circular also urged local governments to improve educational conditions in rural areas, such as providing safe and nutritional meals for rural students.
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