China to adults: Go see your mother or go to jail

Grown children in China must visit their parents or face fines or even jail, according to a new law that went into effect today.

Andy Wong/AP
In this May 23, 2013, photo, an elderly man helps his wife on a wheelchair at a park in Beijing. New wording in the law requiring people to visit or keep in touch with their elderly parents or risk being sued came into force Monday, as China faces increasing difficulty in caring for its aging population.

Filial piety is more than just a tradition in China – now it is a legal obligation.

Grown children who do not visit their aged parents often enough could be fined or even jailed, according to a law that went into effect here on Monday.

Exactly what “enough” means is not specified in the law, which will make it hard to enforce. But the legislation underlines how radically China’s modernization and its “one-child policy” have transformed the country over the past 30 years.

Market reforms have contributed to the breakup of the traditional extended family, as more and more young people leave their hometowns to seek work, and population-control efforts mean parents have only one child to lean on when they are older.

More than 194 million Chinese are over 60 years old, according to official figures. By 2030 that figure will have almost doubled.

China’s parliament amended the Law to Protect the Rights and Interests of the Aged last December, in the wake of a spate of reports about neglected old people. Still, the new wording does not make it clear how often adult children are expected to visit their parents, nor how punishments for offenders will be calculated.

The law “is mainly to stress the right of elderly people to ask for emotional support,” one of the drafters, law professor Xiao Jinming told The Associated Press. “We want to emphasize that there is such a need.”

The law met with much criticism on the Internet, where social media platforms are largely populated by the sort of young people who do not have brothers and sisters to share the financial and emotional burden of caring for their aging parents, few of whom have any kind of pension.

For them, the topic is of red-hot relevance. Nearly 17 million people posted comments on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo site. Zhou Simiao spoke for many when she wrote that “visiting parents is a moral problem rather than a legal one. I can’t return home once a year since I work in Tibet. I can only say to my mum in Liaoning, ‘I am sorry mum. Your daughter is an outlaw.’”

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