October 16, 2010

CHINA: Pondering aging problems on Seniors Day

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BEIJING, China / Xinhuanet / News / October 16, 2010

China celebrates Chongyang Festival, Seniors' Day

Wang Jianping, 63, a healthy retiree from a Beijing-based enterprise, has recently begun searching for nursing homes.

"When I cannot move, I will live in the old people's home and will not inconvenience my children," Wang said.

Her experience of caring for her 89-year-old mother-in-law, who suffers from senile dementia over the past 14 years, prompted her to "search for nursing homes as early as possible," she said.

As China marks Seniors Day Saturday, or the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, experts have called for an improvement in the country's services to the aged, especially at a time when the "only child" generation is finding it increasingly difficult to care for four parents (their own and their spouse's parents).

The Office of the China National Committee on Ageing said the number of people aged 60 or above stood at 167 million in 2009, or 12.5 percent of the 1.3-billion population.

An old man is accompanied home after physical examination in Chuzhou City, east China's Anhui Province, Oct. 15, 2010.

Chen Chuanshu, deputy director of the Office of the China National Committee on Ageing, said the ageing problem not only affected individual families, but was also a major social problem that concerned the national economy and people's livelihoods.

Yang Yanan, a 24-year-old postgraduate student at the Department of Sociology of Peking University, said her grandmother was cared for by four children, and the grandmother would live, in turn, in the homes of Yang's parents and her uncles and aunts.

Hao Maishou, an expert on the ageing issue at the Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences in northern China, said that traditionally, the elderly were taken care of by their sons, financially and socially.

After the New China was founded in 1949, a pension and the aged insurance system was established in both urban and rural areas, but since it was far from perfect, most old people continued to be cared for by their own families. Only a few lived in old-age homes, Hao said.

But today, most parents of the country's first-generation of children with no siblings, following the government's "one-child" policy, have started realizing that they cannot depend on their children to look after them when they grow old. These parents are mostly in their 50s.

Chen said that family-based care was still the main way of caring for the aged in China, and the country was working on improving these policies, financial support and caring services for the elderly.

In the recent past, the government has mobilized non-public sectors to serve the aged and encouraged private capital to enter the sectors providing services to this demographic.

Towards that end, a project called the "Aiwan (Loving the Old Age) Project" was begun in 2008, covering major Chinese regions with serious ageing problems, using an investment of 10 billion yuan (1.47 billion U.S.dollars). Twenty centers for living, entertainment, cultural activities and rehabilitation were to be built in these regions in five to eight years.

Hao of the Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences said that after 2030, caring for the aged in China would be jointly shouldered by families and the society, as a large number of elderly people will also have to care for their own aging parents.

"The country will expand the coverage of social security to the entire population," he said.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

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