Friday, September 2, 2011

Totally Unfair

You probably know that China's phenomenal growth in recent years is largely fueled by the massive migration of rural people into urban industry centers. The come from the countryside, they might make between $200 and $500 a month, more if they have a skill, and China has them to thank for all that awesome economic growth.

But what you might not know is that these people are second-class citizens in the cities they work in, they have no claim to city benefits, and their children often have no right to attend school in the cities where their parents work. Shanghai, to its credit, allows children of migrant workers to attend up to middle school, but after that the kids have to go back to their home province. If a family has two children (which is more common among rural people, the one-child policy is more lenient in the countryside) they might be able to scrap and borrow to pay for high school for one child (usually the boy). But often the schools parents can afford are sub-par, nowhere near Shanghai standards. Girls suffer the most. And more often than not kids wind up dropping out of high school in their home province because they can't make the adjustment back to rural life or they just go to work alongside their parents in the city.

I know all this, but it just pulled at my heart this morning when I was talking to my ayi (cleaning lady). She's this brilliant, sunny person. When I first met her she said she liked me because I'm always happy, just like she is. I asked her why she's always so happy. She said she's happy because she has two children, which is most definitely something to be happy about in Shanghai. Most everyone loves their children, but since I hear her talk about them time to time, they've become part of what I know about her, and I happen to like my ayi a lot.

So this morning she came in - still very upbeat - and mentioned that her daughter was now back in Jiangsu, living with grandma to go to high school. We had a moment of stewing about how wretchedly unfair this is. Her daughter received top-of-her-class marks in middle school. There's nothing to be done. It's an 11-hour journey from Shanghai to the town she's going to school in, which is a lot closer than their home village, so they can visit occasionally.

Children deserve better.

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