Plight of teen prompts education debate, protest in China

Sat Dec 22, 2012 2:08am EST
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By John Ruwitch

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - As the end of middle school approached this year, Zhan Haite, 15, faced two choices: attend vocational school in Shanghai in the fall or move to her ancestral home in distant Jiangxi province to take the high school entrance exam and study there.

Taking the test and going to senior high school in cosmopolitan Shanghai, where she had lived since she was four, was not an option.

Zhan is one of millions of children whose parents belong to China's vast migrant workforce and are barred from taking senior high school or college entrance exams where they live by half-century-old policies on household registration, or hukou.

The hukou system has split China's population in two for decades, affording different privileges and opportunities to urban and rural residents. It is a major challenge for China's new economic policymakers under Premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang as they try to push urbanization as an engine of growth.

Not content with her choices, Zhan launched a microblog in May where she argued her case online, igniting a heated national debate.

In the process, she has become the poster child for a loose-knit but growing campaign for equal education opportunities.

"She is, of course, very important because she is a victim, and all along we have been hoping one of the children who have been hurt by these policies would stand up and represent all the victims so that the community more broadly can pay attention to the issue," said Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing civil rights lawyer, who has campaigned for people like Zhan.

Zhan, who has been home schooling since May, seems comfortable in the role.   Continued...

A policeman films his co-workers trying to persuade protesters from gathering near the Beijing Olympic Tower December 22, 2012. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic