On December 28, 2012 Chinese national legislation was amended so that adult children are now required to visit their elderly parents otherwise they could be subject to legal ramifications. It has been reported that in China elderly parents are often neglected and even abandoned by their working children.
Elder neglect: Burdening the economy
The revised China Elderly People's Interests Protection Law, passed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee on Friday, states that family members should care for the emotional well-being of elderly people and not neglect them. The amendment, which will come into effect in July, says those not living in the same house as elderly parents should visit them often or send greetings. It does not define "often," however. The amendment does not specify how frequently such visits should occur. It also says that employers should allow paid leave, so that people with jobs can return to their hometowns to visit parents. Experts doubt the change in law will help. Professor Zhang Xiaoyi, from Shanghai Jiao Tong University's school of international and public affairs, said visiting and caring for parents was a traditional obligation for children, but is now an obsolete ideal. "In old age, people become reliant on their children, just the way babies rely on their mothers," Zhang said. "But their children are unaware of these needs." She said people's failure to visit elderly parents was often blamed on people being busy with their own jobs and taking care of their children, as well as living a long way away.
The dislocation of families has been exacerbated by China's one-child policy and a dramatic advance in life expectancy. The rapidly growing China is facing difficulty in caring for its aging population. Three decades of market changes have accelerated the breakup of the traditional extended family in China, and there are few affordable alternatives, such as retirement or care homes, for the elderly or others unable to live on their own. Thus, The growing number of elderly people burdens the Chinese economy where the social safety net remains weak. The amendment, controversial when first proposed by the National Committee on Aging at the beginning of 2011, was passed following reports that many elderly people were being neglected or abused by their children. State media say the new clause will allow elderly parents who feel neglected by their children to take them to court.
Chinese media frequently feature stories about parents abused or neglected by their children. Earlier this month, for example, state media reported that a grandmother in her 90s in the prosperous eastern province of Jiangsu had been forced by her son to live in a pig pen for two years. An 81-year-old woman in Tianjin told China Central Television that she wanted to die before last year's Chung Yeung festival - a day when Chinese traditionally pay their respects to their ancestors and the elderly - because her three daughters, who all live away from her, did not visit. Newspapers are full of such stories, or of tales of children trying to seize their parents' assets, or of old people dying unnoticed in their homes.
China has nearly 167 million people aged over 60, and one million above 80. The life expectancy in China has increased dramatically over the last five decades - from 41 to 73. Rapid aging poses serious threats to the country's social and economic stability, as the burden of supporting the growing number of elderly passes to a proportionately shrinking working population and the social safety net remains weak.