June 9, 2010

CHINA: China's shame of abandoned rural elderly

BEIJING, China / Global Times / Opinion / June 9, 2010

What determines the happiness and stability of a society? It isn't physical hardware like skyscrapers, but institutional software like the idea of providing for the aged.

China's traditional filial piety, however, has been facing an unprecendented crisis, especially in rural areas, as a result of severe lifestyle pressures and rapidly growing urbanization.

According to data made public by the Ministry of Civil Affairs in 2009, only 1 percent of senior citizens choose to live in old people's homes, while the rest chose to stay with their own families. Photo courtesy: Impactlab

But the truth is that the majority of senior citizens in rural families have no one to provide for them, as their children have all gone to the cities to be migrant workers.

Many senior citizens have lost their ability to live by themselves, and those who are still capable often find themselves burdened by having to look after their grandchildren, as the kids' parents are too busy to cope with them themselves.

It's estimated that the suicide rate of the rural elderly in China is four or five times higher than the world average.

Unfortunately the situation has got even worse.

The gap between domestic prices and international prices in agriculture has grown even bigger, local governments spend little, if any, money on rural aid, and all this has led to even smaller amounts of money available to provide for the elderly.

As young people flow from rural areas to the cities, the countryside becomes even more underdeveloped.

So, the basic fairness and justice of providing for the aged can't be achieved just through traditional patterns which rely on family or land.

In September 2009, the Ministry of Civil Affairs established new standards for an old age allowance, namely that it should be implemented consistently across a province, provide for everyone 80 or older, and be paid monthly.

But nearly a year later, only Beijing, Tianjin, Heilongjiang, Shanghai, Yunnan, and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region have met these standards. Wang Zhenyao, a director at the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said "No other country only starts paying its old age allowance at 80. It's a national shame."

At the moment, the system mainly fills in gaps, providing for welfare when particular individuals aren't covered.

We need to change to a general system, and one where wealthier local governments contribute more to cover rural areas.

As well as a better old age allowance, we also need national arrangements to establish systems of rural medical insurance and endowment insurance.

These should be implemented for free for all rural people over 60, while insurance for retired people under 60 should involve joint contributions by both the recipients and the local governments.

Only when all this has been done can we reach the standard of social harmony proposed by the famous philosopher Mencius 2,300 years ago, "Provide for the aged not only in your family, but also in others."

Oriental Morning Post

Copyright by Global Times © 2007-2010