Most parents can entice their children back home with the offer of a nice meal, load of washing done or some free baby-sitting. But Chinese lawmakers have taken the ‘sense of duty’ one step further – enacting a law that penalises grown children if they don’t visit their elderly parents.
The ‘Elderly Rights Law’, which came into effect this week, hopes to tackle a growing problem of neglect of the elderly by forcing adult children to visit their elderly parents or face fines and in extreme cases, a jail term.
With statistics showing that more than 178 millions Chinese people are 60 years or over – a figure that’s expected to double by 2030 – the question of how to deal with an ageing population is paramount to the super-power’s future.
Though the new regulation has been openly criticised by tens of thousands of Chinese citizens online, supporters believe the legislation serves as an important ‘educational message’ for the public.
The bizarre law states that adults should take care of their parents’ “spiritual needs”, “never neglect or snub elderly people” and “those who live far away from parents should go home often,” a BBC News correspondent reported.
But many across the country are questioning the logistics of enforcing such a law and questioning the new rule’s failure to provide more information on the frequency with which house calls are expected.
Lawyers believe the new law will serve as a starting point for new court cases and lawsuits. If a case for neglect is brought before the court, then the offender could be forced to visit their neglected parents and be fined or detained for failing to comply.
However, response to the new regulation shows few in the country fear any consequences for failing to obey the new rule. Instead, they took to Weibo – their version of Twitter – to turn the blame on the government:
“Who doesn’t want to visit home often? What is considered “often”? Who will oversee the process?” complained one user.
“We all know to cherish our elderly parents, but sometimes we are just too busy trying to make a living and the pressure is too much.”
“It’s fine that no-one is paying for us to visit our parents, but is there someone who can give us time off to do it?” asked another.
While the population continues to ‘grey’ and local media fills with stories of old people neglect, many still feel the new law will fail to solve the growing problem:
“Family bonds should be based on spontaneous emotions,” argued one online critic. “It’s funny to make it part of a law; it’s like requiring couples to have a harmonious sex life after marriage.”