BEIJING, July 13 (Xinhua) -- The number of Chinese in their 80s or older neared 19 million at the end of last year and will grow by an additional 1 million annually, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Office of China National Committee on Aging.
The aged population, referring to people age 60 years and above, increased by 7.25 million to 167.14 million last year, or 12.5 percent of the total population of China.
Further, the proportion of aged people in the population rose by half a percentage point to 12.5 percent, the largest annual increase in history, said Wu Yushao, deputy director of the office.
"That will be a huge challenge for our country", Wu said. "The economy, the retirement system and services for the elderly are still too weak to handle the challenge."
China will launch a "Senior's Month" campaign in October to raise the public awareness of the aging society, Wu said.
To deal with the aging problem, China's government agencies, including the Civil Affairs Ministry, Health Ministry, and Human Resources and Social Security Ministry, have worked in recent years to guarantee the security of seniors in areas such as payments of insurance and pensions,, providing medical services and the building of additional nursing homes.
The report revealed that by the end of 2009, the number of welfare institutions for old people nationwide has reached 38,060, sheltering more than 2 million senior citizens.
It also showed that by the end of 2009 a total of 235 million people had joined the urban basic old-age insurance program, up 7.3 percent from 2008.
And a new social endowment insurance program targeting the elderly living in the nation's rural areas was launched in 2009 covering 15 million people so far, which has become a system guaranteeing to raise the standard of living for the elderly in the countryside.
Also, medical insurance programs for the aged population in rural and urban areas across the country have been introduced.
Other programs for the elderly included nearly 20,000 legal assistance centers being built by the end of last year and more than 40,000 schools were, so far, established, said the report.