Washington International Law Journal


The hukou system in China uses residency permits to divide Chinese citizens into urban and rural dwellers. A person’s hukou status determines his or her access to state services. Under normal circumstances, a person with a rural hukou status is not eligible for state services in urban areas, and vice versa. Because hukou is primarily inherited from one’s parents at the time of birth, children born in urban areas to parents with rural hukou are similarly designated as rural hukou holders. As a result, children living in cities with rural hukou are ineligible for enrollment in urban public schools even if they were born within the district. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that a massive number of people are engaged in rural-urban migration in China each year. The central government has promulgated numerous laws and regulations in an attempt to grant these migrant children free access to urban public schools, but most local governments have been hesitant to implement the changes. Further, as a prerequisite to enrollment, urban public schools commonly require excessive amounts of documentation and charge expensive fees that make public education inaccessible to migrant families. This comment argues that to fix the current problems with hukou and educational access, the central government needs to clarify the responsibilities of local governments in administrating public education and should devote more funding to urban and rural schools. Both of these measures would encourage local officials to comply with existing education laws regarding migrant children. Additionally, the central government must encourage stricter enforcement of relevant laws in order to incentivize local compliance. Making these changes will have long-term political and economic benefits for China because educating this large group of children can soothe social tensions in cities, lessen income inequality, and facilitate China’s transition to a service-based economy.

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