Smartwatches designed for children have typically been used only by China’s concerned middle classes to track their children. But now the authorities in rural Guizhou are giving the devices to thousands of elementary school-aged left-behind children with the hope that they will be safer and the data generated will help them tackle the social issue.

Bijie City in Guizhou province in Southwestern China has spent RMB 24 million to eventually equip over 100,000 elementary school-aged children with the devices (in Chinese). The children can make and receive calls and exchange voice messages—with their estranged parents, the authorities hope. The devices have health-monitoring functions, GPS tracking, and an emergency call feature to instantly alert the police. 

China has around 61 million left-behind children. Cities suck in migrant workers without providing them with public services or welfare, meaning they often have to leave their children at home, typically with grandparents. The prevalence of left-behind rural children is 35.6% nationally, with some provinces reaching rates as high as 50%.

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Frank Hersey

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...