The Chinese economy has benefitted enormously from access to a vast quantity of easily available and inexpensive labour. Social policies, however, have not kept up as China's more than 280 million migrant workers remain subject to the outdated household registration (hukou) system. 

This legacy of 1950s planning continues to limit freedom of movement and residence, as well as access to basic public services such as healthcare and education, for non-hukou holders.

The hukou system is entrenching inequality across generations as children from migrant families are being excluded from good quality compulsory education in the cities. While children left behind in the villages in the care of older relatives are vulnerable to exploitation.

Reform of the hukou system is on the government's agenda, but efforts to delink household registration and the provision of public services have been patchy.  Urbanisation policies seek to limit the growth of the largest cities and encourage the development of second and third tier cities. In late 2017, debate in China heated up as the Beijing government abruptly forced thousands of migrant workers without proper residency status to leave the city.  

We are supporting local Chinese groups who are working with migrant worker communities to improve access to education for their children.  Our work has resulted in an active media platform that is raising awareness about disparities and their consequences.  Our approach also provides public participation tools to families and social service providers so they can directly advocate to decision-makers about the need for improved policies and services. 

Previous page image by Vladimir Yaitskiy