"My mom left us when I was 1 year old," said 8-year-old Panpan, who lives in Xiwen county in Shanxi province. Her mother left her and their village to work in a city. Her father did so too, soon after her mother's departure.
Panpan has been raised by her grandfather since. He supports the family through farming and makes some 200 yuan (S$40) a month.
In China, one child out of every four children lives apart from biological parents owing to internal migrations that are often driven by economic reasons, according to the All China Women Federation, a government agency.
A recent study by the federation showed that China has around 61.02 million left-behind children, who make up for 21.22 per cent of its overall child population of 287 million.
In a bid to help such children and their care-givers, who are usually grandparents, the government has stepped up funding and training of grassroots activists known as "barefoot" social workers, by expanding an existing child welfare programme.
Years ago, Chinese people used "barefoot doctor" as a description for medical practitioners in villages, who provided basic services.
The "barefoot" social workers are a result of an initiative by the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund in 2010 to extend social services to vulnerable children in China.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs and the UN agency began a pilot project in 120 villages across Henan, Sichuan, Shanxi and Yunnan provinces and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region that year to help children effected by HIV/AIDS. The programme then expanded to left-behind children and orphans in those areas.
Today, with more children being registered by their families for government assistance, the programme is set to travel to Kunshan in Jiangsu province, Haining in Zhejiang province, Luoning in Shenzhen, Guangdong province and another 46 cities.
Mei Hongfang is one such social worker, who visits Panpan every week to play with her. "I've also helped Panpan apply for the minimum insurance for children with more than 100 yuan per month," Mei said. "The villagers do not know about rules on children's welfare."\