Despite government efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in China, infection rates have nonetheless climbed in recent weeks, with 1,567 active new cases and 555 asymptomatic cases reported at the time of writing. Chinese New Year – which customarily marks the world’s largest movement of people – therefore poses a huge challenge to containment efforts, and measures have been introduced since late January to discourage people from travelling home during the festival period.
One week before the beginning of the festival (Feb.1-7), The Centre for Child Rights and Business (‘The Centre’) conducted two migrant parenting training sessions for 63 parent workers, of whom 30% do not currently live with their children. The training included modules on parenting during COVID-19 and is the beginning of a range of support activities organised by the factory and their buyer to support migrant parents during this challenging time.
During the training, we also got the opportunity to gather feedback and insights from these migrant parent workers about how the pandemic has affected their lives. These workers are employed in factories in Guangdong, Shandong and Jiangsu, and come from over 15 provinces across the country.
How migrant parent workers are impacted by the pandemic
11% of the parent workers said that they will not be able to return to their hometowns to celebrate the Spring Festival with their families this year because of the pandemic, and will instead stay put in the cities where they work. Over the past year, the pandemic has had a profound affect on their lives: 65% said that they worry about COVID-19 infection, 54% said that they can’t leave the province because the pandemic is causing major inconvenience and disruption to their lives, 37% said their salaries have decreased, 24% said they worry most about their children getting infected and 17% said they feel guilty about not being able to be with their children because of the pandemic. Only 6% of parents said the pandemic has had no affect on their lives.
The pandemic’s impact on children
But the pandemic hasn’t only affected parents; children have also been greatly impacted. 73% of parents said their children’s outdoor activities have been reduced because of the pandemic, 44% of students are unable to leave the cities where they study because of official COVID-19 travel restrictions (among them, around 44% are left-behind children who are unable to return to their hometowns during Chinese New Year). What’s more, 40% of children have had their studies disrupted because of the pandemic and are unable to attend training courses and have limited opportunities to socialise as a result.
At the beginning of February, we conducted a young workers’ needs assessment at a large-scale electronics factory in Guangdong Province, giving us further insights into the impact of COVID on workers’ Spring Festival plans. During this process, we learnt that 1,500 workers chose not to return to their hometowns for the holiday due to two main concerns: one, that they would get infected on their journeys home, and two, that they would be required to produce negative COVID test results and would most likely be required to quarantine at home, causing major delays to their return to the factory.
According to the survey, the employees who will not be returning to their hometowns for Chinese New Year this year said that they will choose an appropriate time to visit their families when the pandemic has been brought under control.
As so often, China’s migrant workers show a great deal of resilience and tackle the mentioned challenges with patience and strength. However, as many of them mentioned during and after the training, these times are challenging and all support from employers and buyers are more than welcome. As one worker noted:
“I'm a native of Jining. The 2020 epidemic has had a great impact on me. We need take care my children and parents, also have pay the mortgage, so I have to reduce some living expenses. My husband and I can only meet the basic daily expenses now.
This year our client organised three activities in the factory, which I feel are very meaningful. I’d like to say thanks to the factory and client for doing these interesting activities. I recently got my children to participate in online parent-child activities. My son said he liked it very much because he’s usually always at school studying and doesn't normally have a chance to take part in a competition with so many other children at the same time. He hopes he can take part again next time as well. But I know that what he wants most of all, is for me to spend more time with him because I’m busy at work and only have the weekends to be with him.
I received a stationery gift bag, and my supervisor told me it was a gift from the client. I'd like to ask you to convey my gratitude to the client, say “thank you!”