Last month, the Chinese government passed a new law: the ‘Parent Abandonment Bill’. This bill states that children are legally obliged to visit their parents, take care of them, and show them love. Although this bill does not specify exactly how often these visits should take place, children who do not take care of their parents run the risk of being taken to court and sued.
This law has been passed in response to recent changes in the Chinese society. A few decades ago, Chinese families used to live together with multiple generations under one roof, making it easy for children to take care of the elders, even when they marry and have offspring of their own. However, more recently, Chinese families’ living arrangements have changed, and it has become the norm for just two generations to live together, similar to the model of typical Western families. This means that the elderly are often moving into nursing homes, sometimes against their will, which in itself are a new phenomenon in China.
A few decades ago, Chinese families used to live together with multiple generations under one roof, making it easy for children to take care of the elders, even when they marry and have offspring of their own
There are two major causes for these changes. The first one is the increase in life expectancy, from 41 to 73 years over the past five decades. This has led to an increase in the percentage of elderly in the population, increasing the strain on the younger generation with regards to caring for the elderly. The second change is the one child policy implemented in 1979, which means that families, especially in the cities, only have one child, decreasing the proportion of youngsters in the population. This further increases pressure on these single children to take care of their parents, both emotionally and financially.
On top of this, especially in the countryside, the younger generation is more frequently moving to the cities in order to find work, which means that migrants’ parents are often left by themselves in the countryside, sometimes with younger children to look after.
Nursing homes are thus also gradually becoming the norm in Chinese society
This pressure of the growing elderly population, as well as reports of children abusing their parents or neglecting them, and growing criticism towards the governments’ unwillingness to deal with societal problems, have led to the Chinese government attempting to demonstrate its willingness to solve these issues by passing the ‘Parent Abandonment Bill’.
Nursing homes are thus also gradually becoming the norm in Chinese society, especially in the larger cities. However, they are not a viable option for all families as not everyone can afford to pay for them. This means that soon, with China’s greying population, the government will have to find another way to support this population, both in the emotional and the financial sense.
By Margaux Schreuers