Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Migrants' Families

Over the past several months, I've talked extensively about the problems of migrant workers and their work. Here is an article talking about the problems that arise when migrant workers go away to work.

From AFP:

Photo from Xinhua

MINGCHUAN, China (AFP) — Like millions of Chinese children, 16-year-old Song Yuedong sees his parents just once a year.

As China's army of migrant workers toil to build their nation's future, children like Song live with relatives, often knowing their parents only as voices on the end of a phone.

Shy, wearing an American basketball tee-shirt and sporting the fuzzy beginnings of a mustache, Song looks like any teenager anywhere in the world.

He lives with his grandparents in the farming town of Mingchuan in Anhui province, one of China's poorest regions which since the 1970s has been a major source of the cheap labor that has fueled the nation's explosive growth.

More than 130 million people like Song's parents have left their farms for work in China's cities -- in their case a factory in neighboring Jiangsu province.

They come home once a year for the Lunar Chinese New Year holiday, the traditional season for family reunions.

"When they come back, I am very happy because I can finally see them after such a long time," Song said.

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Growing up in a stable, two-parent home, this is a very sad story to me.

While it's great that poor farmers in China's countryside have had the chance in recent years to earn more money and learn more skills than they ever would have staying on the farm, there are some drawbacks to making it out of the countryside. Especially if the entire family can't go to the city.

Walk into any small canteen restaurant in Xi'an and you are very likely to see teenagers working as the waitresses and in the kitchen. I've seen some children that look very young working in kitchens. I reckon a lot of them are in their early teens.

And as for adult migrants, they are everywhere. Go anywhere in any Chinese city and their presence can be felt.

When migrants take advantages of the opportunities to leave the countryside, there certainly are opportunity costs when making that decision.

China, which now has tens of millions of children who hardly know their parents, will certainly feel the effects of this phenomenon in one way or another as these children go into adulthood and the parents of these children leave the workforce and go into retirement.

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