Chinese Law May Force Children to Visit Lonely Parents

Do you sometimes forget to call or visit the folks? In China, an amendment to an elderly rights law would let parents sue.

In a move to curb elderly suicides, which tripled in the massive Asian nation between 2002 and 2009, China is proposing an amendment to an elderly rights law that would require children to visit their aging parents. If they don't, their parents can sue them.

The urbanization of China has changed the nation's familial interactions drastically. Children are no longer living with their parents and grandparents into adulthood, and more old people are moving into apartments by themselves rather than close-knit rural communities.

Young people's values are changing as well. Whereas reverence for the elderly was once an important virtue in Chinese culture, increasingly, the youth are leaving their forebears behind. The result is rampant loneliness and disillusionment, which causes added mental and physical health problems in a population that's already struggling with chronic illness and dementia. One British study of that country's citizens recently called loneliness a "silent killer" for the elderly.

Even without the proposed law in place, there is already a precedent of old people suing their offspring in Chinese courts. Just this month, for instance, a judge in the Shandong Province ordered three women to pay their 80-year-old mother between 350 to 500 renminbi a month (about $53 to $75) after the mother claimed that they ignored her.

If the aged visitation mandate works in China, perhaps the United States could consider a similar piece of legislation. In 2002, America had the highest rate of elderly suicide amongst any English speaking country, with 507 deaths per million citizens.

photo (cc) via Flickr user xavi talleda