January 6, 2011

CHINA: Visiting parents soon a legal must-do

BEIJING / China Daily / January 6, 2011

By Wang Qian (China Daily)

China is considering making it a legal duty for Chinese citizens to visit their aged parents as the country grapples with the challenges posed by a graying population.

Wu Ming, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said on Wednesday that visiting aged family members has been written into the proposed draft amendment to the Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Aged.

The law came into effect in 1996, with no amendments since.

Under the amendment, elderly people who are ignored by their children can go to court to claim their legal rights to be physically and mentally looked after, Wu was quoted as saying by Shandong Business Daily.

When the draft amendment takes effect, the court can no longer reject cases lodged by the elderly who lack proper care from their children, he added.

Wu said spiritual consolation is emphasized in the chapter that family members cannot mentally ignore or isolate the aged, and children who live independently should often visit their parents.

The draft amendment also said the country encourages local governments to give pensions to those above 80 years of age and offer free medical examination service to the elderly, Wu said.

In traditional Chinese culture, it is a moral requirement for children to take care of their aged parents. But now more and more children are defying the tradition.

The information office of the ministry refused to confirm Wu's remarks on Wednesday.

Taking care of the aged has long been a problem in China with its large elderly population. By the end of 2009, 167 million people were over the age of 60 and nearly 19 million were over 80, according to statistics released by the China National Committee on Ageing.

More than half of the people above 60 in China are living alone and things are worse in cities, where about 70 percent of the aged live alone, the statistics said.

Social care for the elderly has been written into the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) in order to let most aged enjoy social care, Li Liguo, minister of civil affairs, said at a conference in November on improving the country's elderly care and service system.

China currently has more than 38,000 nursing homes with nearly 2.7 million beds and more than 2.1 million aged receiving care, according to the ministry.

Many experts praise the trend of paying attention to elderly care in China, but said the legal amendment is too difficult to enforce.

Qian Jun, a Beijing-based lawyer, told China Daily on Wednesday it is impossible to carry out the compulsory requirement to visit elderly family members because it violates personal liberty.

"It would be better to strengthen moral education than to force people to do something legally," Qian said.

Cao Yin contributed to this story.

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