The hukou, the household registration system created under the planned economy, was widely adopted as a convenient and foolproof instrument for discriminating between local residents (with local hukou) and new migrants. Under a policy regime of benign neglect, higher level governments did not intervene to protect the rights of migrants, and in the process allowed the creation of a two-tiered society. Through three decades of rapid urbanization, the number of non-hukou urban residents has grown inexorably. For this subgroup of urban residents, the lack of access to vital public services such as education, health care, housing and social welfare, hinders their full integration into mainstream society, distorts their participation in the labor market, and blocks their aspirations. Basic education is arguably the single most divisive issue in the debate on citizenship and the social rights of migrants; it is a vital public good provided by governments, access to which is considered a key determinant of the equality of opportunity in society. In China, the 1986 Education Law guaranteed every child 9 years of education, and made it compulsory. The 2006 Compulsory Education Law stated this should be provided free of charge, and paid for by government. In Chinese cities over the past decade, the central government has made strenuous efforts to improve the opportunity for migrant children, but they continue to face great difficulty gaining access to urban state schools.
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