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Childless elderly require more than financial support

By Wang Yiqing | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-06 07:41

Childless elderly require more than financial support

People watch performance at Qingjiangpu temple fair during Chinese Lunar New Year holiday in Huai'an city, East China's Jiangsu province, Jan. 30, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

Spring Festival means happy family reunions for most Chinese people. But for parents that have lost their only child, the festival is a time of sadness as it only reminds them their loss.

Governments at all levels make efforts to support these families during the festival. There are many media reports of local authorities providing financial aid to families that have lost their only child, or civil servants and social workers visiting these families during the holiday.

But what these parents really need is not flowers, gifts or even money during the holidays, but rather a sound institutional arrangement for their well-being when they grow old, as they have no children to look after them in their old age.

It is a tradition in China that children look after their elderly parents. Even though society has drastically changed since reform and opening-up, young adults still play an important role in supporting their elderly parents. It's an urgent task that the government steps in to provide the support to those parents who have lost their only child.

Many local governments provide subsidies or allowances to parents that lose their only child, but in reality they are usually far from enough. Many senior citizens' pensions are not enough for them to live decent lives without the financial support of their adult children. Financial support to secure the basic life needs of these seniors based on the actual situation of local areas is in urgent need.

Meanwhile, local governments should also provide a mental counseling service to these elderly, many of whom suffer from serious psychological trauma. A high percentage of the elderly who have lost their only child reportedly suffer from depression and even attempt to commit suicide. It is necessary that governments and social workers provide regular and effective psychological support and, when necessary, intervention to this group.

In addition, even if they are financially self-sufficient and are able to cope with the daily routine by themselves, these elderly still face difficulties in dealing with emergencies.

For instance, if they fall ill or have an accident, they have no child to turn to for help as other families do.

It is good to see the higher authorities are already aware of the significance of taking care of these elderly-in-need and taking action on their behalf. In August last year, the National Health and Family Planning Commission announced it was establishing a contact person system for "the special families under the system of family planning". It requires two specific contact persons be designated for the families that have lost their only child, and requires the contact persons to properly deal with any serious emergencies that might arise.

In addition, some local authorities have begun to purchase old age support services for these families, which is also an effective means of aiding them.

Support for the elderly has become an increasingly important issue in China as its society ages and nuclear families replace traditional big multi-generation families.

Moreover, despite the government now allowing all families to have two children, more and more couples choose to have only one child or even be DINKS (dual income, no kids) due to people's ever-increasing pursuit of self-fulfillment and the heavy financial burden of raising children.

Under such circumstances, in the future more and more families will face the same difficulties as those families that lose their only child do. Therefore, the authorities should pay more attention to the transition from the family-based support for the elderly to community-based support for the elderly dominated by the government.

The author is a writer with China Daily.


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