Wiser and Happier?

Getting older isn't as bad as it seems—on the contrary, it has its perks. Plus: How your sense of happiness changes as you age, midlife crisis myths, and ancient wisdom about aging.

Visit Your Parents—It's the Law!

Can devotion and loyalty be legislated?

For the majority of adult children, getting together with aging parents is something we want to do. Most of us look forward to visits—granted, some dread them—but we go voluntarily nonetheless.

But as of July 1, adult children living in China will not have any choice about seeing and caring for their elderly parents. While adult children in America may have pangs of guilt if they miss a visit or neglect their parents, adult children in China are about to be penalized in concrete ways.

Over two years ago, China proposed an amendment to their 1996 Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, in anticipation of an inevitable surge in population of senior citizens that officials say will pass 200 million by next year and grow to approximately 400 million by 2033.

The amended law states that adult children cannot ignore and isolate their parents who are age 60 or older. The law in question, however, which requires children to visit their elderly parents “often,” permits senior citizen parents neglected by their children to go to court to enforce their right to be looked after them physically and mentally, reports the China Daily.

In short, in China parents will be able to sue their adult children if they neglect them.

Changing Family Dynamics

Loyalty and devotion to family and parents have long been traditional values in the Chinese culture. Many children—often only children responsible for the care of their parents and possibly grandparents—moving to distant cities to find work are undermining those virtues. The exodus is deteriorating longstanding family values. The International Business Times explains, “China's elderly, traditionally revered, are now a forgotten population amid the nation's rapid development. Stories of abandonment and mistreatment are not uncommon.”

According to the Xinhua news agency, “In addition to urging family members to care for the elderly, the law stipulates that the government will ensure a basic living and basic medical care for the elderly through the pension mechanism and healthcare scheme.” Several Chinese governmental departments are taking precautions such as adding beds to nursing homes and creating more meal centers.

Can the New Law Be Effective? 

Given the extraordinarily large population of elderly in China, I wonder how the law can be enforced.

This is a fascinating premise—and, arguably, a genuine effort to curb potential problems of a large, older population. But, how does a country police a law that is essentially about morality and personal choice? Will parents report their children? Or, will China monitor everyone in the same brutal fashion they enforced their one child policy for 30+ years? Will the government pay monitors to enforce the law?

Right now, there are no specifics as to how often a child should visit his elderly parents. On the surface, the law seems unenforceable. But then so, too, did China’s policy of limiting family size and forcing pregnant women to abort a second child.

One has to ask: What is the upside to visiting with a child who does not wish to visit you? Does this law have a real chance of restoring China’s virtue of reverence toward their elderly? Or, will the consequence of punishment only diminish devotion to aging parents?

If the US had such a law, can you envision circumstances of neglect under which you would start a lawsuit against your adult child?

Resources and Related:

Anonymous. "China Amends Law to Boost Care for Elderly." Xinhua. 29 Dec. 2012. <http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2012-12/29/c_132069983.htm>. 

FlorCruz, Michelle. "Chinese Law Requires Children To Visit Elderly Parents." International Business Times. 02 Jan. 2013. <http://www.ibtimes.com/chinese-law-requires-children-visit-elderly-parents-987796>.

Hongyi, Wang. "More Measures Sought for Aiding Elderly Population." ChinaDaily.com. 06 March 2012. <http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-03/06/content_14763044.htm>.

Newman, Susan, PhD. "China Rethinks Its One-Child Policy." PsychologyToday.com. 18 May 2011. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons/201105/china-rethinks-its-one-child-policy>.

Tatlow, Didi Kirsten. "Visit Your Parents — In China, It Could Soon Be the Law." NYTimes.com. 29 June 2012. <http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/29/visit-your-parents-%E2%80%94-in-china-it-could-soon-be-the-law/?_r=0>.

Quian, Wang. "Visiting Parents Soon a Legal Must-do." ChinaDaily Europe. 06 Jan. 2011. <http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-01/06/content_11801677.htm>. 

Copyright 2013 by Susan Newman