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Xinhua Insight: Elder-care issues loom for those who have lost their only child

06-21-2012 05:01 BJT

by Xinhua writers Qiang Lijing, Zhang Yao and Ren Liying

HANGZHOU, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Unlike many Chinese parents, Shen Xiuyi and her husband are not looking forward to the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival, which marks a time when busy sons and daughters return home for family reunions.

For Shen, 55, the upcoming festival is no different from the other festivals scattered throughout the year that leave her feeling lonely and heartbroken.

"I have been afraid of festivals since my daughter passed away three years ago. Those complete families' happiness hurts me a lot and I feel anxious about my future," Shen said, sobbing, during an exclusive interview with Xinhua in eastern city of Hangzhou.

Shen has suffered great pains from losing her only child, especially as she and her husband approach old age.

The first generation of parents from single-child families are stepping into their old age since the one-child policy was launched across the country in the early 1980s.

Zhang Caixia, a 56-year-old single mother, faces an even worse situation.

Zhang found that her only daughter, 28, had committed suicide in her room during this year's Spring Festival in the city of Linyi in eastern province of Shandong.

Having singlehandedly raised her daughter, the devastated woman felt she had lost the only hope of her life.

"Nobody will chat with me and take care of me anymore. After I die, no one will come to visit my grave," Zhang said.

Unlucky parents like Shen and Zhang are just extreme examples of a looming issue faced by almost all single-child families in China -- who is going to support the aging parents if the only child is unable or unwilling to do so?

Ge Wei, a geriatrician and consultant with the provincial Institute on Aging of Zhejiang, said an increasing number of old-aged people have started to worry about elder-care issues in recent years.

"I, myself, have only one child, so I can understand their concerns. The parents of single-child families face a relatively high chance of having no one to care for them in their twilight years," said Ge in his 60s.

He explained that some of the sons and daughters of single-child families are not willing to take care of their parents or they neglect their parents' loneliness because they are busy working and facing great social pressures themselves, while others die in their youth from unexpected accidents, disasters or diseases.

China's traditional concept of caring for the elderly is changing along with changes in the family structure.

"My mother-in-law had nine children, so they took turns taking care of her when she got ill in her later years," said Ge. "But this is not practical today, as the current family structure usually takes on the mode of four-two-one, that is, four elderly people, two adults and one child."

The "4-2-1" phenomenon is largely the result of the family planning policies China implemented in the 1980s to control its population, which had boomed since the 1950s.

The scale of the family has narrowed; therefore, the present population structure presents a heavy burden for young Chinese people in supporting the elderly. The elder-care issue should be shouldered not only by the children, but also by the country's pension insurance system, Ge said.

 

 


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