It’s Chinese tradition that children look after their parents in their old age. But what if the parents’ only child dies before they do?
Since 1980 it has been illegal in most cases for parents to have more than one child—hence the one-child policy, a radical attempt at population control originally based on scientific theories of a handful of Chinese aerospace engineers.
And now millions of those only children are dead, leaving elderly couples, or orphaned mothers and fathers, to eke it out alone.
According to a report by the Beijing-based daily newspaper Beijing Times on Aug. 27, demographic expert Yi Fuxian, now a scientist at University of Wisconsin, predicts that more than 10 million of 218 million single-child families in China will lose their only child. The estimate was based on the 2000 national census, which showed that 463 of 10,000 in this group die before the age of 25.
There have been 218 million one-child families between 1975 and 2010, the report said. Yi’s estimate means that more than 10 million only-children could die before the age of 25, leaving 20 million bereaved parents by their middle age.
Having reached nearly 50, very few of these mothers will be able to have a second child.
In the report “Alive: A Study of the Desolate Elderly in China,” Chinese authors Wu Jiaxiang and Yu Weihua citied statistics from the 2010 China Health Statistical Yearbook issued by the China Ministry of Health, which shows that around 76,000 only children between 15 and 30 years old die each year.
Orphaned parents say that, without a child, their lives are meaningless. Not only do they have to bear the burden of losing a loved one, they are also left with no means of support in their older years.
“I do not fear death,” a now-childless father was quoted in a Beijing Times report saying. “I fear my aging.”
When elderly parents begin applying to nursing homes in their later years, those without children are usually turned away.
That happened to a 75-year-old professor, who would only be identified by his surname Pan, who lost his only child to heart disease. After his child’s death, Pan applied to several nursing homes for himself and his wife, only to be refused because he no longer had a child to sign his papers, according to the “Alive” report.
Around 80 childless parents gathered in June at the office of the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC), sitting in the office until 4:00 p.m. the next day, before officials finally agreed to meet with them, the report said.
Wang Peian, the deputy director of the agency, met with five representatives from the group. He promised to submit a framework to the State Council, and keep in touch, but there are no indications that the policy will change.
No changes will be made to the policy without the agreement of top-level Communist Party leaders. They have continued to support the policy against objections by lawyers and activists, who say that it leads to female infanticide, and widespread forced abortions carried out by local Party authorities, often violently.
Read the original Chinese article.
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