Tradition of filial piety needs the force of law

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 3:44am

Society is changing fast on the mainland - so fast that laws are needed to protect age-old traditions. The coming into force on Monday of a legal requirement for children to visit and take care of elderly parents shows just how far culture has shifted. But as much as the move is about preserving family values, it is also a necessity for a nation that is quickly ageing while still developing. Putting it in place is a timely and welcome decision.

Traditions are bound to come under pressure when confronted by rapid development. Filial piety may be taught from a young age, but it can easily be neglected or even forgotten when opportunities arise. The flood of people from the nation's poor central and western regions to the industrialised eastern provinces has left many elderly parents at home to take care of children or fend for themselves. By some estimates they number 100 million - more than half of the over-60s population.

The UN believes that the number of people over 60 will almost triple by 2050, and that has grave health and economic implications. Living in cities far from parents' rural villages also gives children an "out of sight, out of mind" mindset. A Jiangsu court's prompt enforcement of the new Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, therefore, sends the timeliest of messages. A couple, sued by an elderly mother for ignoring her, have been ordered to pay a visit at least every two months and give compensation.

It is common practice in developed nations for children to put their elderly parents in homes for the aged. Once there, it is easy to forget them. Many complain they are neglected. This is not a path China, with its age challenge and the complications created by the one-child policy, can be allowed to follow. Continuing with tradition, the elderly should be respected and taken care of, in recognition of their child-rearing, knowledge and contribution to society. The law, while not a solution to the challenges of an ageing population, goes a way to ensuring obligations are met.