China's economic boom has drawn rural Chinese to cities in search of higher incomes. The rural migrant worker population has expanded significantly, increasing from roughly 30 million in 1989 to more than 140 million in 2008, according to China's National Bureau of Statistics (Boxun)
According to the report, more than 76 percent of the new generation of migrant workers, who were mostly born after 1980, want to live permanently in the cities where they work but are seriously challenged by the high cost of urban life and poor access to welfare services such as education, medical treatment, housing and social security programs.
Due to policies promoting urbanization, internal migration has skyrocketed in the last thirty years in China. Children are often left behind in their natal villages with grandparents as caregivers when the mother migrates. Estimates put the number of these children, known as liu shou er tong, or “left behind children”, at 23 million.
To manage the huge population flows — the government relies on an internal passport and registration system that ties access to education, health care and pensions to the birthplace of a person’s parent. The hukou system, as it is called, has created a two-tiered population in many Chinese cities: those with legal residency and those without.
Parents face dilemma as hereditary registration system limits access to urban services. Despite spending more than half his life in Beijing, Hu does not enjoy the same access to health, education and social services as his neighbours. And because the hukou – registration – is inherited, neither do his children