China Has to Make it Law: You Must Visit Your Elderly Parents

Thank goodness for children: they will care for us and keep us company in our old age.

Or not.

China had to pass a law recently requiring adult children to visit their elderly parents often. “The move comes as reports abound of elderly parents being abandoned or ignored by their children,” the AP reports. So much for filial love and devotion.

Negligent offspring are now subject to lawsuits by their parents for not visiting. Hopefully parents can also sue for the elder abuse that is often reported in the Chinese news. Some observers believe these problems stem from the high cost of caring for the elderly in a country light on affordable retirement homes and heavy on one-child families with no siblings to share the burden.

Many news outlets are reporting that the law is a response to elder abuse, like a notorious case of a man who housed his aged mother in a pig pen. Indeed, ”elder-abuse cases in Hong Kong have risen 15% in the last two years.”

But requiring parental visitation makes little sense as a response to abuse. Why sentence victims to more time with their abusers? The law is more likely meant to battle elder neglect.

There is a geographical component to that neglect that many Americans can relate to. “An eighth of China’s inhabitants – 167 million people – are over the age of 60. Many of their children leave home to find work in major industrial centres.” That means they are far away, so finding the time and money to visit mom and dad can be challenging.

Germans are also struggling with elder care. The costs of nursing homes are rising beyond the means of many German families. They have settled upon an unusual solution: placing their parents in retirement homes in Asia and Eastern Europe. Over 7,000 older Germans are in retirement homes in Hungary alone. Local “social welfare organisations…have called it ‘inhumane deportation,’” The Guardian reports.

One reason for this reaction may be that the increased geographical distance between grown children and parents likely means fewer visits.

Humane or not, exporting elderly Germans and neglecting Chinese parents result in part from the irrefutable pressures of demographics and money: populations with growing proportions of older people who need care, and less money to pay for it.

Regardless of the reasons that grown children are not caring for or visiting their parents, the phenomenon illustrates a point that voluntarily childless (or “childfree”) people have been pressing for a long time: breeding is no kind of long-term care insurance policy. It is no more effective in the U.S. than in other countries.

As a childfree woman, I am often asked who I expect to care for me when I’m old. The specter is dangled before me of an old age spent in a nursing home. But the truth is that I will have plenty of company, and mostly composed of parents. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010 there were 1.4 million residents in U.S. nursing homes. (This number is down from 1.5 million in 2004.)

An estimated 60 percent of nursing home residents have no regular visitors,” according to the Ohio state government. I seriously doubt that 60% of people in nursing homes did not have children. Rather, their children live far away, or are busy, or can’t be bothered. Having kids doesn’t guarantee that they will be there for you, whether you are Chinese, German or American.

Related Stories:

Mickey Rooney: If Elder Abuse Can Happen To Me, It Can Happen To Anyone

Chinese Parents of Gay Kids Demand Anti-Discrimination Laws

Human Overpopulation Threatens Our Survival

Photo credit: iStockphoto

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98 comments

katarzyna phillips

Chrissie H: that was EXACTLY what i was going to say! when i worked at a nursing home, christmas and new year was always 'difficult' as some people visited their loved ones and others would sit there in the same chair as they always did, watching the television like they always did, with a gloomy look on their face, keeping an eye on the door 'just in case' their family would visit. when the realisation came that nobody did, then the tears would come and they wanted to die as that way they may have a visit. it was really hard on me to try comfort someone in that situation. i'm not their family and my hug isn't the same as their child or grandchild

Lee Walker
Lee Walker2 years ago

What happened to the old Chinese filial duty? I think the younger generation lacks respect and care for their elders these days. How sad!

Past Member
Past Member 3 years ago

How sad. But the US could stand to do the same thing. Ignoring the people who brought us into the world is pandemic! I don't understand this at all.
I gave up a job & my apartment & moved 90 miles to care for my mother & my sister who lives less tan 2 miles away on the same street barely visited unless my mother ASKED her to stop in. Then when she did you'd think SHE just drove 90 miles to make an appearance!
Someday EACH of us will be elderly. Maybe then we'll understand.

Carmen F.
Carmen Flejter3 years ago

interesting - making a middle class is hard work..people do get exhausted

Christine Jones
Christine Jones3 years ago

Very sad, when China used to have a reputation for respecting and caring for its elders.

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Alicia Guevara
Alicia Guevara3 years ago

Very interesting. Tks.

Ernest Roth
Ernest R.3 years ago

@ Helen L. “1 child. China is definitely suffering from Buyer's remorse for having bought into that program” Too bad. The country had a disastrous overpopulation problem. Would it have been preferable to suffer from that ? A labor shortage, like the one in Europe following the Black Death, could cause a great improvement in the lives of workers. Huge bumps in population growth create problems for which there is no easy solution. We also have the problem in the west that there are too many seniors to be properly taken care of by the smaller number of young people, who are having difficulty taking care of themselves just now. Producing larger numbers of children would quickly destroy what is left of our world. These are the results of irresponsible mass behavior and no one has a solution.


Ana Passos
Past Member 3 years ago

A bit pathetic. It isn't just China. Recently there were reports of centenary people in Japan that weren't really alive. The family kept it a secret to receive their pension.

Vicky P.
Vicky P.3 years ago

that's really sad..and it says a lot about China as a country, they use to value family and now it's become a cold country