Law Requires Chinese To Visit Their Aging Parents

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BEIJING (AP)
— Mothers and fathers aren't the only ones urging adult children to
visit their parents. China's lawbooks are now issuing the same
imperative.

New wording in the law requiring
people to visit or keep in touch with their elderly parents or risk
being sued came into force Monday, as China faces increasing difficulty
in caring for its aging population.

The
amended law does little to change the status quo, however, because
elderly parents in China already have been suing their adult children
for emotional support and the new wording does not specify how often
people must visit or clarify penalties for those who do not.

It
is primarily aimed at raising awareness of the issue, said one of the
drafters, Xiao Jinming, a law professor at Shandong University. “It is
mainly to stress the right of elderly people to ask for emotional
support … we want to emphasize there is such a need,” he said.

Cleaning
lady Wang Yi, 57, who lives alone in Shanghai, said the new law is
`'better than nothing.” Her two sons work several hundred kilometers
(miles) away in southern Guangdong province and she sees them only at an
annual family reunion.

“It is too little, for
sure, I think twice a year would be good,” she said. “We Chinese people
raise children to take care of us when we are old.”

China's
legislature amended the law in December following frequent reports of
elderly parents neglected by their children. It says offspring of
parents older than 60 should see that their daily, financial and
spiritual needs are met.

Although respect for
the elderly is deeply engrained in Chinese society, three decades of
market reforms have accelerated the breakup of China's traditional
extended family, and there are few affordable alternatives, such as
retirement homes.

Xiao said even before the
Law of Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged was amended, there
were several cases of elderly parents suing their children for
emotional support. Court officials generally settle such cases by
working out an arrangement for sons or daughters to agree to visit more
frequently. Typically, no money is involved.

The
number of people aged 60 and above in China is expected to jump from
the current 185 million to 487 million, or 35 percent of the population,
by 2053, according to figures from the China National Committee On
Aging. The expanding ratio is due both an increase in life expectancy -
from 41 to 73 over five decades – and by family planning policies that
limit most urban families to a single child.

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.

Zhang Ye, a
36-year-old university lecturer from eastern Jiangsu Province, said the
amended law was “unreasonable” and put too much pressure on people who
migrate away from home in search of work or independence.

“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,” she
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.”

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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