Opinion / Web Comments

Elderly couples who have lost children need help

By Tang Jun (chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2013-04-24 16:07

How the government should take care of parents who have lost their only child has become a matter of grave social concern. The difficulties such parents face, especially if in poor health, are immense.

An important reason why the number of such couples is increasing is that youths face more risks than before as greater numbers are leaving the safety of the home environment at an earlier age and are generally traveling more and are more exposed to the world.

It is important that the government changes policies to tackle this serious social problem. But realism is also called for.

For instance, the government should be wary of some forecasts that the number of couples who have lost their only child is likely to be above 10 million. The figure was calculated on data of 218 million single-child families from 1975 to 2010, in which 463 out of every 10,000 single children died before reaching the age of 25.

But that number, 463, is misleading. Since the children died before the age of 25, many of the one-child couples were still capable of having another child or adopting one. So instead of taking measures to help 10 million parents, as some demographers have suggested, the government should work out a policy to help couples no longer young enough to have another child.

Besides, how can China have 218 million one-child families when the sixth national census says the country has about 400 million families in total? In other words, to say that China has 10 million families that have lost their only child is an exaggeration.

If the government were to accept that more than 10 million families have lost their only child and give each family a monthly subsidy of 200 yuan ($32.15), it would need more than 24 billion yuan a year for the purpose.

The fact is that no reliable figure on elderly Chinese couples who have lost their only child is available. The Ministry of Health says about 78,000 single-child couples lose their children every year. Based on this number, some experts estimate that the number of elderly couples who need special government help and care is between hundreds of thousands and 1 million. To help such couples, the government has to ensure their economic security, provide them daily support services, and take care of their emotional needs.

As for providing daily services, community nursing centers can take care of most of their daily needs.

Also, the government should provide them comprehensive medical treatment.

Fulfilling the emotional needs of old couples who have lost their only child may be the most difficult task to deal with. But while making changes in its policies, the government should remember that the principle of the more the better does not necessarily apply to welfare and other forms of social assistance, because such parents will be emotionally sensitive and vulnerable.

The author is a researcher at and general secretary of the Social Policy Research Center, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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