A survey by China’s Ministry of Health at the end of 2004 said 88 per cent of the country’s male migrants suffered from sexual depression.
For 25-year-old migrant construction worker Chen Qiang, the dream of marrying his ideal woman and building a house to share with her ended in July.
Apparently spurred by alcohol and pornographic films, Chen allegedly grabbed and raped a 43-year-old woman who was passing by.
A migrant worker, carrying a bag of his belongings, walks past a huge advertising poster.
The native of Anhui Province is now on trial at the Jiangning District People’s Procuratorial Department in Nanjing, capital of East China’s Jiangsu Province, and could face years in prison.
"Chen is not the only migrant worker to go down that path due to long-term sexual frustration. Similar tragedies are happening again and again," Deng Yuanhong, deputy director of the department, told China Daily.
According to Deng, since May when the weather started turning warm her department has dealt with more than 15 cases of alleged rape and sexual harassment by migrant workers.
People tend to be more impulsive in summer, and see-through clothes worn by some women provoke desire, Deng said.
Deng and her colleagues are calling for more attention to be paid to the social consequences caused by the suppressed sexual needs of migrant workers.
Figures from procuratorial bureaus in four major districts in Nanjing showed 78 cases of rape were allegedly committed by migrant workers between 2004 and 2005, accounting for 48 per cent of all such cases in the districts.
The youngest migrant worker rapist was 16, while the majority were aged around 25.
In Chen Qiang’s case, some co-workers voiced sympathy.
"Frankly speaking, most of us at times feel the same sexual desire as Chen did. But we just work more or simply distract ourselves with other means. Chen has committed a crime, but his situation was pathetic. He is a warning to us all," said Zhang Jiashun, a migrant worker who used to work with Chen.
In another case, Luo Shuang, a 33-year-old married migrant worker who was sentenced to 20 years in prison last month for raping four women, was quoted by Nanjing Daily as saying he felt pained by his sexual frustration and regretted his crimes.
Luo even asked for the death penalty because he was too ashamed to see his family again.
What has been reported about such migrants in Nanjing mirrors the situation of many other mobile people in China.
It is estimated that there are more than 140 million migrant workers, scattered across almost every labour-intensive industry in the country. Statistics provided by sociologists indicate they make up about 68 per cent of the total workers in manufacturing and construction and almost 32 per cent of those in the service industry.
While their hard work fuels the country’s surging economy, the migrant workers in return usually work long hours, get little rest time and low pay, and also have undesirable living conditions.
Forced to leave spouses behind and work away for months at a time to support their families, migrants often have the family budget to consider first, instead of their own sexual needs.
However, even though they are mostly too shy to talk about sex publicly, a lack of sex has reportedly troubled the majority of single or married adult migrants.
A survey by the Ministry of Health at the end of 2004 said 88 per cent of the country’s male migrants suffered from sexual depression.
And a survey carried out by Beijing Star Daily last year covering 40 adult male migrants revealed 16 of the married men hadn’t had sex in six months. Nine single migrants had not had sex since arriving in the city several years ago.
The survey correspondents said they thought about visiting prostitutes, but their earnings could not sustain their desire for a call girl.
Most of them instead watched porn films and some resorted to touching women in public.
Sexual fantasies are common among these adult male migrants, with the walls of their rooms posted with almost nude models and "dirty" magazines passed around. And they often make a fuss when they see intimate lovers in the street, as they feel jealous.
Furthermore, as said, more extreme behaviour like rape and sexual harassment have also been seen.
Compared with their male counterparts, female migrant workers seem more disciplined although things do not always run smoothly with them either.
A 2002 survey by the Guangdong Family Planning Research Institute found that more than 50 per cent of the province’s single female migrant workers were engaged in pre-marital sex. a practice considered disgraceful in China’s countryside where most of the female migrants come from.
A survey in June by the Guangzhou Family Planning Bureau covered 6,395 female migrants aged between 16 and 49 years. It reported that more than 30 per cent of married migrant women in Guangzhou suffer from various diseases associated with their reproductive systems, and about 32 per cent of single migrant women don’t know what a venereal disease is.
According to Wu Yiming, dean of the Sociology Department of Nanjing Normal University, with China’s experiences of industrialization, the trend of people moving from agriculture to work in urban areas is irreversible.
But ignoring the sexual needs of migrant workers, most of whom are male, will lead to physical and psychological problems.
"Migrant workers are first and foremost human beings with normal sexual needs. Society cannot ask them to adhere to laws and regulations while ignoring their natural demands," Wu told China Daily.
Wu warned that sexual frustration might lead to not only mental and physical problems for the migrant themselves, but also social problems such as crimes like rape, and prostitution.
Experts in sociology and law like Wu and Deng suggest that society should work together to help migrant workers.
The government should enforce the laws and regulations effectively and punish the factory managements that treat migrant workers badly. These factories are expected to grant their workers regular paid holidays so they can return home as well as allowing spouses to visit, said Deng with the Jiangning District Procuratorial Department.
Local governments should also improve workers’ knowledge of the law by giving out handbooks and holding regular lectures for them.
Wu suggested employers and authorities should help and encourage workers to enjoy a more healthy existence outside of work.
Methods include providing free and accessible "healthy" movies or building leisure centres where workers can play cards or table tennis to divert attention away from their sexual demands.
It has been reported that a cinema targeting migrant groups was established in Beijing during the last Spring Festival.
And practices such as handing out free condoms in areas with a lot of migrants were also listed by Wu as a way to curb widespread sexually transmitted diseases.
Researchers also suggest that some rules relating to the movement of people need to be changed if social problems initiated by migrants are to be fought.
Chen Liangwen, a researcher with the China Centre for Regional Economics under Peking University, said a key issue is to alter the permanent residential policy. Without proper permits, migrant workers face difficulties with such things like getting jobs and housing.
More specifically, including migrant workers in a city’s subsidiary housing plan is a fundamental way to help them, according to Tao Ran, a researcher in development economics with China Academy of Sciences.
When an entire family can afford to live together in a city, problems generated by loneliness are eased naturally, according to Tao.
A good example of how to accommodate migrant couples is the "lovebird nest" emerging in Shenzhen, Nanjing, and Yongkang County in East China’s Zhejiang Province.
With large numbers of migrant workers from Anhui and Henan provinces, the Xiaguan district in Nanjing has built dozens of cheap apartments which can be rented for 300 yuan (US$37.5) per month when spouses come to visit.
In a Shenzhen handbag-making factory funded by a Hong Kong investor, 168 migrant couples who have, on average, worked in the factory for seven to 10 years are enjoying their spare time in "lovebird nests."
It has been reported by local media that due to this considerate welfare measure, workers in the factory are more dedicated and rarely choose to leave. Production efficiency at the site is 40 per cent higher than at other similar factories in the same area.