China goes 4th with ‘Prisons of Poor’

A guard on duty at the gates of one of the villages closed off by China's new sealed management policy (Image courtesy of AFP)

We’ve all heard of gated communities: big walled compounds filled with rich people, fancy cars and tennis courts, designed to keep those who can afford it safe from whatever criminals, poor people and other dangers may exist outside those walls. Commonplace in countries like South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and America, they are the ultimate symbol of elitism and social separation.

China, it seems, has taken things a step further. Instead of allowing the rich to barricade themselves away, the Beijing government has begun locking up many of its poorest villages from 11pm till 6am each night, effectively stopping all freedom of movement for their inhabitants. The policy is known as ‘sealed management’ and it is defended as a way to reduce crime in the city.

What it means in reality, however, is a very different story. The targeted villages are largely made up of poor migrants who have come to the city to eak out a meagre living  for themselves and their families after facing gut wrenching poverty in their rural homes. As well as already facing xenophobia and limited access to schools and government services, this is yet another hardship being forced upon them. Getting to and from work is now immeasurably more difficult for those affected and the many small vendors who operate within the villages fences are suffering large decreases in business, not to mention its effect on those who simply want to visit friends or family in other villages after dark.

Anti-migrant sentiment is rapidly on the rise in Beijing as many blame migrants for the lack of jobs, increase in crime and decrease in general living conditions and this government decision only serves to act as an invitation to further discriminate against migrant workers. 16 villages have already been fenced in and gated, with only those with proper identification being allowed to leave the village after nightfall (read: permanent, non-migrant inhabitants).

Achingly reminiscent of Apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany, the Sealed Management policy looks set to continue despite the controversy around it. That said, while some are protesting over the policy’s segregationary proposals, many wealthy Beijing inhabitants support the plan, making this an even sadder day for human rights in China.


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