To analyze the epidemiological characteristics of pediatric burn patients in Shanghai and to determine the targets for a pediatric burn prevention program, a retrospective review of all medical records of acute pediatric burn patients (age</=14 years old) admitted to the Burn Center of the Ruijin Hospital between January 1980 and December 2002 was performed. Patient demographics, etiology of burn, mechanism of injury, extent and anatomical areas burned, number of operations, and length of hospital stay were recorded. A total of 1494 pediatric burn patients were admitted. Six hundred eighty-seven (46%) patients were from the migrant population (non-registered population of temporary workers from rural areas outside of Shanghai). Scalding was the main cause of pediatric burns in the age groups. Children 0-3-year-old were the most common victims of scalding, chemical burns, and contact burns. Domestic burns resulted in 1293 (86.5%) injuries followed by burns occurring while playing in public. The incidence of domestic burns has increased since the beginning of the study period, while the incidence of burns while playing in public has decreased. The median total body surface area was 4% for mild burns, 10% for moderate burns, and 18% for extensive burns. Predominant areas involved were the head, neck, anterior trunk, and right lower limb. Most children received conservative treatment, and their mean hospital stay was 16.1+/-12.2 days. There were 17 (1.1%) deaths, mostly due to sepsis (82.4%). Migrant children are the majority of burn victims since 1996. The education of burn prevention should focus on the migrant population in an industrializing city.