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Left-behind children bear grown-up burdens

Yang Tianmei, 11, does her homework while her brother is watching TV at home in one of China's poorest place Guiyang Province. Photos: Wall Street Journal
 
In some of China's poorest regions, millions of adults have fled their villages in search of work, leaving behind young children who must fend for themselves.
 
About 61 million children—one of every five in the world's most populous nation—haven't seen one or both parents for at least three months, according to the All-China Women's Federation, a Communist Party advocacy group. The total has grown so big that the children are widely known as left-behind kids. 
 
China has about 250 million migrant workers, who pour into cities from rural areas and help keep the country's manufacturing engine supplied with cheap labor. They believe they are fulfilling their duty to raise their family's standard of living. Income sent home helps pay for better food and education, and some workers save enough money to build a new home in their rural village. 
 
Their absence forces children to shoulder the responsibilities of running a household. Grandparents who live with left-behind children often are ailing or toil long hours tending fields or gathering firewood. Many rural Chinese grandparents are illiterate and can't help with homework.
 
More than 70% of children in rural China show signs of mental-health problems such as anxiety and depression on standardized tests, says Scott Rozelle, a Stanford University professor.
 
 
Tianmei's cousin Yang Hailian, 10,  does laundry besides a pool near her home.
 
 
Tianmei feeds the fire under the kitchen stove. 
 
 
Tianmei cooks food for her cousins.
 
 
It takes an hour's walk over the mountain to go to school every day.

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