Predators put 'left-behind' girls in danger

09:10, May 19, 2011      

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Girls left behind by their migrant worker parents receive psychological consultation at a primary school in the Qiaocheng district of Bozhou, in East China's Anhui province, on March 9. Zhang Yanlin / for China Daily

Children, especially girls, who have been left behind by their migrant worker parents in rural areas, are vulnerable to sexual harassment and other risks, experts said.

An estimated 8 million youngsters under the age of 18 live alone in the countryside, accounting for nearly 11 percent of the total 73 million "left-behind" children, said Duan Chengrong, a demographer at Renmin University of China on Wednesday.

The figures are based on a 1-percent sample census carried out nationwide in 2005, Duan said.

He made the remarks at a meeting for the launch of the Chinese version of the State of the World's Children 2011 report in Beijing, which was staged by the United Nations Children's Fund and the National Working Committee on Children and Women.

Without any adult supervision, these left-behind children can be the targets of abduction and sexual assault and can easily fall victim to traffic accidents and drowning, according to a study by the All-China Women's Federation in 2008.

Although there are no official statistics on the number of incidents, such cases are frequently reported by the media.

There are more than 34.19 million girls living in the countryside with either one or both of their parents absent, Duan said, adding that this group is extremely vulnerable to sexual harassment.

In 2009, the prosecutors in Yibin city, in Southwest China's Sichuan province, a major labor-exporting province, handled 83 sexual assault cases involving 103 female adolescents, local media reported.

Chen Wei, a lawyer from Beijing-based Yingke Law Firm, told China Daily that some people in the rural areas tend to take the advantage of the vulnerability of girls whose parents have migrated to cities.

"In rural China, a lot of girls dare not speak out after they are harassed because they feel ashamed and worry that the experience, once known by others, will ruin their reputation and chances to marry," Chen said.

It was also impossible for them to turn to their parents for help because they had little idea of what happened at home, she added.

The government will give priority to building more boarding schools in rural areas for children who are left behind by their migrant parents, said Song Wenzhen, director of children's department of the National Working Committee on Children and Women.

However, professor Duan stressed that policymakers should work toward the goal of enabling all children to live with their parents.

"The problems will be solved when parents can have jobs in their hometown or children can migrate to cities with their parents and enjoy equal education opportunities and social services with their urban counterparts," Duan said.

Source:China Daily
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