top of page

Left-behind Children research in the Winter of 2015

Project took place in 2015 in Sichuan, China

In 2015, at Xiaoliang Mountain School in Daxing Town, Sichuan Province, China, as a volunteer, I first learned about left-behind children in rural China. The volunteer experience left a deep impression on me, where we learned about the real life situation of them, many of whom are without their parents and have major problems both mentally and physically. 


According to research, "Left-behind children" is a special group derived from the process of social transformation in China. A large amount of data reveals their real living conditions.


In order to capture the reality of the children's lives, we designed a series of outdoor participatory games to help us build trust among the children. It also gave us the basis for a better understanding of the group


Special Populations, Inclusive Education, Child Poverty, Social Change, Social design

Research Methods:

Participatory Research
Experimental Research
Field Studies
Stereotype Research
Desk Research

Research Locations:

Xiaoliang Mountain School in Daxing Town, Sichuan Province, China

Project Background

Due to the rapid development of industry and the tertiary industry, more and more farmers go to the cities to work.  These migrant farmers live and work in the city, but they are being treated unequally to city dwellers:

As a result, 61,025,500 children in China have to stay at home without one or both of their parents; 10 Million kids can not meet parents longer than 1 year; 11 Million get the call from parents less than 2 times a year; 2.057 Million live alone. 


What is the left-behind children in China?

The term "left-behind children" refers to children under the age of 14 whose parents or one of them moves to another region, and the child remains in the place of domicile and therefore cannot live with both parents.


Left-behind children are in a critical period of physical and mental development, emotional need parents attentive caress and care, and they have long separation with parents unable to enjoy an ordinary love. On the emotion, attitude, and values to produce deviation, abnormal personality psychological development and induced by a variety of emotional problems, seriously affecting the health of body and mind development of the left-behind children.


Number of left-behind children in rural areas by province in China, 2015

Source: National Bureau of Statistics, UNICEF, UNFPA,

"The Situation of Children's Population in China in 2015: Facts and Figures", 2017


In 2015, there were more than 2 million left-behind children in each of the 9 provinces in the country, and the total number of children in the nine provinces was 26.72 million, accounting for 66% of left-behind children in the village. In some provinces, the proportion of left-behind children in rural areas is very high, exceeding that of the local rural child population. 40%, such as Chongqing, Sichuan and Hubei.

Screenshot 2021-10-10 at 3.25.55 PM.png

The upbringing condition of children in Chinese families

The lack of parental roles is not conducive to the growth of children, and more attention needs to be given to children living alone and children living in single-parent families, floating families and left-behind families.

Screenshot 2021-10-10 at 3.44.57 PM.png

The living conditions of left-behind children in rural China

The study surveyed 11 provinces (cities, districts) across the country. Except for Anhui Province, each section selected an urban middle school and a rural middle school in a county to conduct a questionnaire survey, and finally obtained 8002 valid questionnaires. In Anhui Province, it selected eight middle schools in four counties to perform an asynchronous questionnaire survey. The survey shows two key points:


1. The phenomenon of staying behind is widespread in poverty-stricken areas across the country. Among the 11 provinces (cities, districts) surveyed in the survey, the rural left-behind rate averaged 26.1%. The highest percentage of staying behind in rural areas is 51.3%.


2. The relationship between left-behind children and their parents is relatively loose. Nearly half of left-behind children contact their parents once "less than a week." The contact method is mainly telephone. The call's content is primarily about the body, study, and life, and rarely involves the psychological level (less than 10%).


left-behind children mental health status

Most of the research on the mental health of the left-behind students in rural areas uses statistical methods to analyze the overall mental health of the left-behind students, the comparison between the left-behind students and the non-left-behind students, the gender difference between the left-behind students, and the influence of the length of time their parents work outside.


Research such as Guo Zhihui and others have shown that the incidence of loneliness among left-behind students is significantly higher than that of non-left-behind students. The six factors of compulsion, paranoia, hostility, interpersonal relationships, maladjustment, and psychological imbalance are higher than those of non-left-behind students in rural areas. The loneliness and mental health of left-behind students are worrying.


Liu Hongyan and other studies have shown that at least one of the parents' long-term trips to the labor union brings specific adverse effects on their left-behind children's mental health. Rural parents who have been out for work for a long time often have fewer opportunities to meet with their left-behind children away from their hometowns and have low communication frequency. They cannot provide timely psychological and daily help to their children, which cut off their emotional connection with their children to a certain extent.


The mental health of left-behind students is lower than that of non-left-behind students. There are differences between left-behind and non-left-behind students in learning anxiety, self-blame tendency, and general anxiety. Among the left-behind students, girls' mental health is lower than that of boys; the overall mental health of left-behind junior high school students Higher than non-left-behind junior high school students.


According to the study, 37% of children aged 14-16 have had suicidal thoughts, 12% have planned suicide, and 6.3% have committed suicide. If both parents are at home, about 30% of their children have suicidal thoughts. If the parent or mother goes out to work, the chance of suicidal thoughts for left-behind children exceeds 60%.


Studies have shown that rural left-behind students' mental health is generally lower than that of non-left-behind students. Parents' working time is positively correlated with the mental health of left-behind students. Female students are more likely to have psychological problems than boys.

Group 3.png

According to statistics from the Supreme People's Court in 2013, left-behind child crimes accounted for about 70% of the number of juvenile crimes, and there is an upward trend year by year. Many factors cause left-behind children to commit crimes, such as family financial difficulties, lack of social support, poor companionship, availability of drugs and guns, neurobiological factors, personality factors, and family factors.

With all the research above, the project's target user is left-behind children with potential psychological problems (age: under 14), specifically in remote villages in China, hoping to contribute to rural development and help them grow up in an al-round and healthy way.

We organized experimental participatory activities 

We designed a number of experimental interactive games to increase cooperation and mutual assistance relationship between children.


These activities are also part of our research, which make us get close to these kids and their family, get to know which kind of work the rural teachers already did on this topic.

Focusing on this, we further explored the relationship between left-behind children and rural teachers through field research. The project hopes that the participatory activity approach will help us to understand the psychological conditions of left-behind children and build bridges between rural teachers and left-behind children to provide strong support for rural education in China.

bottom of page