Child labour and child kidnapping in China

Many of us would consider child labour a problem of less developed countries, but let’s think about China. Shanghai and Beijing are huge modern cities that first come to mind when we think of China, but what about the many other provinces of China, where actually a lot of manufacturing and agriculture happens? Our newest impact consultant, Anthony K.H. Ho, is currently based in Hunan Province and teaching at Nanxian Yutan Experimental School. He will be giving us an insight on what’s happening in the area over a series of posts. 

Today, Anthony reports on: “Child labour and child kidnapping in China.”

Child labour in China is often an unclear and speculative issue for Western audiences due to restrictions on the dissemination of government documents, and the prohibition of collecting such statistics. Although there are numerous laws and regulations that obstruct the employment of children as well as the availability of free universal primary education from the ages of 6 to 16, child labour is far from being an out-dated issue. The question that now remains is how stringent do Chinese authorities enforce these child labour laws?
In Hunan Province, child labour is somewhat limited with its vast rural communities and urban cities that have much fewer factories compared to larger economic zones that rely heavily on foreign invested export-oriented enterprises such as Fujian, Guangdong, Sichuan, Zhejiang, and Hubei. Although cases of child labour are not as widespread as other developing countries, China’s rapid economic development, the people’s drive for materialistic gains and certain aspects of Chinese culture are a cause for concern as these factors are deepening social stratification and widening gender gaps, which inevitably affect the future of its children.

Getting rich has now become the national moral compass in which millions of migrant workers from the countryside flock to urban areas to seek employment, often at times leaving their children at home. As a result, child kidnapping has become a phenomenon whereby rural children are trafficked into forced labour, including prostitution. Despite the impossibility to acquire statistics on child trafficking, the seriousness of the issue was indicated by a recent policy briefing of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China on February 19th, which discussed the need to reinforce the protection of left-behind children in rural areas. However, as the policy’s core principle is to stress family ethics in hopes to stop migrant workers abandoning their children, again the question that remains is how effective local governments are in implementing a mechanism for information and intervention?