Closure of migrant children schools in China sparks anguish

BEIJING Thu Aug 18, 2011 3:37am EDT

1 of 3. A girl uses her fingers to count mathematical problems at a kindergarten for children of migrant workers, on the outskirts of Beijing May 13, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee/Files

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China has shut down 24 schools for the children of migrant workers in Beijing forcing more than 14,000 students to drop out, state media said, sparking anger among parents who say they face discrimination.

Local officials told the migrant schools that they had not met safety and hygiene standards.

"I felt very sad when I heard the school will be shut down, I have to send my children back to our hometown in Henan," 42-year-old waste collector He Zhongshan told Reuters at the Dongba Experimental School, on the northeastern outskirts of the capital.

"The living standard in Beijing is much better than in my hometown and education here is good. But for public schools, my children will need many certificates to be enrolled."

While the overwhelming majority of China's 150 million rural migrant workers see their future in cities and towns, they are often treated as unwelcome "interlopers" and have few rights.

China's residence permit (hukou) system, which channels most welfare, housing support and healthcare to urban residents, means that migrant workers do not have access to state-subsidized schools.

"The authorities claim they will find places for all displaced children but they deliberately set the threshold for school placement qualification so high that the vast majority of migrant families cannot meet the requirements," Geoffrey Crothall, director of communications for workers' rights group China Labour Bulletin, said in emailed comments.

Crothall added that "the closure of migrant schools in Beijing is a cynical ploy by district governments to clear the land for property developers as land values in the outer suburbs continue to rise."

In a note seen by Reuters, the Dongba county government told the Dongba Experimental School that "severe hidden dangers have been found during the inspection in the first half in 2011" related to fire-fighting, power and hygiene.

"Your school must be shut down...for the safety of students, teachers and regional security and stability," it said.

The Dongba school, which is located in a village of migrant workers and sandwiched between new high-rise apartments, started its semester two weeks early in an attempt to prevent it from being demolished, said the principal, Yang Qin.

In response, the local government stopped the school's supply of water and power, according to Yang. That did not deter the school, which rented a power generator and transported its own water from the neighborhood.

Staff from other migrant schools, such as the Red Star School and the New Hope School, said the government had demolished their sites on very short notice.

"Our school has closed, forcing some 800 students to drop out," said a representative of the New Hope School, who declined to be named. "There are still 500 students with nowhere to go although the local government has relocated 300 of them."

The State Council Development Research Center, a top state think-tank, warned that unless migrants have better welfare, housing and legal status in towns and cities, their discontent could turn into a serious threat to stability.

(Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom, Editing by Sui-Lee Wee and Alex Richardson)

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