July 3, 2013
Go See Your Parents (Or Else): China’s New Law
According to the Chinese newspaper China Daily “The number of people aged 60 or older in China reached 185 million by the end of 2011, accounting for 13.7 percent of the population, and that number will exceed 200 million this year, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. That age group will number 480 million in 2050.” That is a lot of people 60 years or older to provide for. Plus, with the One Child law, children do not have siblings to help with fulfilling the Chinese virtue of filial piety, which basically means to respect, care for, and honor one’s elders.
In the past, families lived with each other for multiple generations. Today, though, children have to move out in order to make a living. This has kept them from regular contact by phone or in person. Because of the dwindling contact, China came up with a law, called the Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, that requires children to stay in regular contact with their parents. As Bloomberg Businessweek and China Daily explain, the law states that “to protect the lawful rights and interests of parents aged 60 and older, and to carry on the Chinese virtue of filial piety.” The law gives seniors legal recourse if their children do not follow through by allowing the seniors to seek mediation or lawsuits. It also supports working children and states that there is “a requirement for employers to allow workers time off from work to visit their elderly parents.”
The Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly does not identify how often children should be in contact with or see their parents, but it does demand that parents are cared for.
AFP provides one example of an elder who sued her daughter because she was neglected. The 77-year-old woman claimed her daughter and her daughter’s husband had agreed to help care for her, but did not do so, instead relying on the son to take care of her. Once the elderly woman moved in with her son, her daughter and son-in-law did not visit. “The People’s Court in Beitang district decided the couple should visit the mother at least once every two months, and on at least two of China’s national holidays, it added. It also said that the couple could be ordered to pay compensation if they did not visit.” This case is a direct result of the new law.
Critics contend that there could be some problems with enforcing the new law. First of all, it says that children need to visit with their parents “often.” It does not explain specifically how often. Furthermore, though it provides employees with an option for release time from work, critics say that will be hard to enforce.
As an American, I was first offended by this law that intrudes on personal relationships, but then I remembered that the Chinese government often inserts itself in the personal relationships of its citizens. Case in point, the One Child law. It is not all that surprising that the Chinese government would pass the Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly.
Like many of the critics, I am not sure how well this will work. Hopefully, it will remind children of the needs and desires of their parents. I guess only time will show us if this law will work or if it is just lip service.
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