A recently amended Chinese law requires individuals to care for their elderly parents. “It is mainly to stress the right of elderly people to ask for emotional support … we want to emphasize there is such a need,” one of the drafters of the law, Xiao Jinming said.
Under the reworded Law of Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged, Chinese citizens must regularly keep in contact with their parents or they could face civil prosecution.
The law has been criticized for failing to make a substantial impact as it does not clarify how often children should visit their parents or what the specific penalties are if they do not.
Before the change to the legislation, senior citizens were also already suing their children for perceived neglect, so failing to comply with the law would not substantially alter the status quo.
Jinming emphasized that the central purpose behind the law is to raise awareness for the increasingly unfriendly atmosphere for Chinese senior citizens. This concern stems from the fact that the population of those 60 and older is expected to rise by 300 million by 2053.
Chinese newspapers are full of stories of elderly parents being mistreated. For example, earlier this month Chinese media reported that a woman in her nineties had been forced by her son to live in a pigsty for two years.
There are also stories of children trying to seize their parents’ assets, or of old people dying unnoticed in their homes.
The traditional extended family in China has been damaged because of the rapid pace of China’s development.
Here are some of China’s statistics that led to the visitation law to be regulated.
• An eighth of the population of China is over the age of 60.
• China has nearly 167 million people aged over 60, and one million above 80.
• More than half of China’s elderly people live alone.
• Children often leave their parents at home while they go to work in the major industrial centers.
• The dislocation of families has been exacerbated by China’s one-child policy and a dramatic advance in life expectancy.
• There are fewer working children to support more elderly relatives.
• China has few affordable retirement or care homes for the elderly.
While members of the older generation are fairly happy with the changes and expect their children to care for them, many of those subject to the law are skeptical of the new requirements.
“For young people who are abroad or work really far away from their parents, it is just too hard and too expensive to visit their parents,” 36-year-old university lecturer Zhang Ye said.
“I often go to visit my parents and call them … but if a young person doesn’t want to, I doubt such a law will work.”