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Education for Migrant Children in China at Issue for Rights Groups - 2002-08-15

China's capital, Beijing, has announced it will grant legal status to some previously banned schools for migrant children, saying the move will improve education. But rights groups are skeptical.

The Chinese government has carried out widespread crackdowns on schools for migrant children over the past two years. Major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have closed dozens of migrant schools in an effort to curb the flow of poor workers from the countryside. The closures have caused an outcry among academics and children's advocates, both in and outside China.

But Thursday, the official China Daily newspaper said more than 10 schools for migrant children in Beijing will be registered legally, giving them the same treatment as state-funded schools.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed education official as saying the government will also set up new schools for migrant children, which will charge lower fees than state schools. The teachers will be qualified migrant workers. Beijing said the moves will improve education for some of the 150,000 migrant children living in the city.

Rights groups say the measures are encouraging, but do not go far enough. "China is clearly in complete contravention with all international treaties on the rights of children and as a matter of fact is in contravention with its own laws, which stipulate that education is both compulsory and free for the first nine years," said Nicolas Becquelin, a researcher in Hong Kong for Human Rights in China. More than 100 million migrants from rural areas have flooded China's cities to perform low-paid, low-skill work. Their children are barred from state-run schools because of complicated residency requirements and high fees.

In response, migrants have set up hundreds of private schools. The government says many of these schools are illegal and violate safety standards.

Mr. Becquelin said despite Thursday's announcement, Beijing closes more migrant schools than it opens. "As long as they will not remove those legal, bureaucratic barriers, I think there cannot be any long-term solution for the education of these children," he said. "This is a very, very worrying problem. It affects millions of children across China, and denying them education is certainly compromising their future."

Mr. Becquelin called on the government to allow all children to attend school, regardless of where they live.