Crimes and Villains

China’s Lost Youth

Li Li

Arecent cluster of crimes committed by migrant children, who move to cities, from the countryside with their parents, have generated headlines in China, triggering widespread concern and raising the question of what turned the adolescents into villains.

Official statistics show that China has more than 262 million migrant workers—those who have moved from rural areas to cities in search of employment opportunities. Often working long hours as manual laborers, migrant workers are often unable to participate in the education and raising of their children as much as they should. Some migrant children turn to forming gangs and robbery without the guidance of their parents to keep them in school and steer them in the right direction.

A video showing a group of teenagers attacking a young boy was posted online on May 25, quickly going viral and triggering outrage and shock on the Internet. In the nine-minute clip three teenage boys are shown laughing while elbowing and kicking the boy despite his constant begging. Toward the end of the clip, one perpetrator picks up a rock and smashes the boy in the head, knocking him unconscious.

A day after the video's uploading, one of the attackers, 15-year-old Guo, turned himself in to police, which then led to the other two being tracked down in Bieijing's neighboring Hebei Province on the same day. The other two assailants, one aged 15 and the other 17, both of whom are from Gansu Province, also confessed to beating the victim. All three are school dropouts.

The victim, a 14-year-old primary school student, told the police that Guo, who lived close to his home, mistakenly suspected him of tipping off the police about him attacking another boy in April, for which Guo was detained. "I didn't do it [tell the police about Guo]," the boy told newspaper The Beijing News on May 26.

According to a report by China National Radio, similar assaults committed by youngsters, who are usually school dropouts, occur on a daily basis in Naixi Village, Chaoyang District where the infamous attack took place. Located in Beijing's northern suburb, the village, which has a permanent population of less than 2,300, has become the home to 40,000 to 50,000 migrant workers and their families in recent years. Both the victim and Guo came from migrant workers' families.

Presently, China is in the process of reforming its household registration system, also known as hukou, which divides Chinese citizens into urban and rural residents. The reform is designed to help make basic urban public services more available to migrant workers. As a result of the current situation, some migrant workers are unable to enroll their children in public schools in cities where they reside. Many cities even struggle to provide enough space for all children that do hold a local hukou. Migrant workers often end up either allowing their children to drop out of school or choose to send them to un-licensed private facilities, where the quality of the education is not guaranteed.

On May 27, the Beijing Higher People's Court published a white paper on Beijing's juvenile crime in 2013. The paper, the first of its kind in China, revealed that out of 1,097 cases, 77.4 percent of perpetrators had received little or no education and 65.3 percent of offenders were from outside of Beijing. On the other hand, the paper noted that juvenile victims, especially those who suffered from sexual harassment, were more likely to be the children of migrant workers, though statistics were not published. However, it was noted that the predators are often acquaintances of the victims—such as teachers, neighbors and people from the same hometown.

The white paper went on to explain that investigations revealed that the vast majority of migrant workers work long hours to make ends meet and end up leaving their children at home alone or are unable to pick them up from schools, making these children easy targets for thieves and sexual predators. Similarly, the parents do not have the time to engage themselves in their children's education at school, leading their children to become more likely to skip classes, which in turn makes them more sly to turn to delinquency.

The document also identified juveniles from rural areas who earn a living in Beijing without their parents as being particularly vulnerable of turning to crime.

"As they often lack access to stable employment or accommodation, the likelihood of them turning to crime increases when they encounter difficulties in supporting themselves," said the paper. It also noted that these individuals' usually low level of education, the sudden change of surroundings and their exposure to enormous wealth gaps between themselves and some native Beijingers could be considered factors that put this group at a higher risk of becoming delinquents.

A similar study was conducted by the People's Procuratorate of Qingpu District in Shanghai based on 253 cases of juvenile delinquency that it handled between 2009 and 2011, which involved a total of 343 suspects. Among them 293, or 85.4 percent, didn't have a local hukou and 208, or 60.6 percent, were children of migrant workers.

The study revealed that children of migrant workers are more likely to commit offenses involving impulsive behaviors and violence, such as assault and robbery. Compared with their local peers, children of migrant workers are also more likely to form gangs. The same study shows that children from families of migrant workers also have higher reoffender rates.

A report by Shanghai-based magazine Xinmin Weekly in 2013 said that the rate of delinquency among children of migrant workers was dramatically higher than that of their local peers as well as their parents' generation.

Inadequate parental care should be considered the main culprit in the sufferings of both the juvenile victims and offenders, said Zhao Deyun, a senior judge who deals with juvenile cases with the Beijing Higher People's Court, in an interview with China National Radio.

Zhao said that in many of the cases he handled, the parents work in a different locality, have separated or divorced, or are unable-and sometimes even unwilling-to fulfill their parental responsibilities. He said that sometimes he, and other judges, were unable to reach the custodians of the plaintiffs during proceedings, presenting a major obstacle.

A recent seminar hosted by the All-China Women's Federation studied the possibility of drafting a law on domestic education in China. "The law could give support to special families, such as migrant workers' families, and regulate the behaviors of parents and educational institutions," said Lin Jianjun, a law professor specializing on women and human rights issues from China Women's University.

The white paper by the Beijing Higher People's Court suggests that the local governments in places with a large community of migrant workers strengthen the administration of the juvenile population by documenting their schooling and employment information. Juveniles who have dropped out of school, cannot find jobs, are former victims of crime or have records of delinquent behavior should be informed of related organizations that can give them the necessary help.

Policies should be put in place to ensure that children of migrant workers can be admitted by public schools in cities of their current residence and the Central Government should set up funds to subsidize the educational expenses of cities with a large migrant population, said Cheng Jing, a lecturer at China West Normal University in Nanchong, southwest China's Sichuan Province.

In a commentary in Guangming Daily, a Beijing-based newspaper, Cheng also stressed the need for local educational authorities to strengthen the supervision on private schools to ensure they have qualified teaching staff and facilities.

"Related departments should provide vocational training programs for migrant workers so that they can earn a better income and afford educational expenses of their children," Cheng added. "Such experience can teach these parents the value of knowledge and education, and encourage them to voluntarily invest more in their children's school education."
[Courtesy : Beijing Review, July 24, 2014]

Vol. 47, No. 15, Oct 19 - 25, 2014