China faces up to aging population

The birth of a baby boy in Beijing early Thursday marks the day of 1.3 billion people in China, which might have come four years earlier, and it shows that China has achieved favorable results in its efforts toward a low birth rate.

But, population officials and demographers still have much to worry about, such as the country's increasing aging population.

It is estimated that the proportion of people aged 60 or older in China will rise from 7 percent now to 11.8 percent in 2020. And there will be more than 400 million people aged 65 and older and more than 100 million aged 80 and older by the middle of this century.

In 2000, the national capital Beijing had 1.7 million people aged 60 or older, who took up 12.54 percent of the city's total population.

The aging population poses a serious challenge to the support for the elderly, social security, social welfare and services, Chen Yi, vice-chairman of the Beijing Municipal Old-age Association, told a recent forum on population and development in Beijing.

Chen said that in 2000 every 100 working persons supported 28 people, including 17 children and 11 aged people in Beijing. In comparison with 1990, the number of children supported by every 100 working persons dropped by 12 but the number of the aged being supported rose by two.

Chen said this reflected increasing pressure on supporting the elderly people in Beijing.

What is gratifying is that China has achieved marked progress in supporting and caring for the elderly people in recent years.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs launched in 2001 a "Starlight Project" to build community-based services for elderly people. The government has spent 13.5 billion yuan (1.63 billion US dollars) over the past three years in building 32,490 service stations, where elderly people can read books, play cards, do painting, practice calligraphy, have exercises and attend lessons specifically for aged people.

Many Chinese cities have adopted preferential policies, under which elderly citizens can have free visits to parks and free bus rides and enjoy priority to visit doctors, museums and cultural centers.

China promulgated the law on safeguarding the rights and interests of senior citizens in 1996.

Apart from government efforts, an increasing number of volunteers have joined in the efforts to support and care for the elderly people.

In Beijing, there are 300,000 volunteers who have established one-to-one relationship with needy elderly people and provide regular services ranging from washing clothes, cleansing houses and chatting with the seniors.

Some elderly people choose to spend their remaining years at "homes for the elderly" run by the government, where they are well fed and cared for. In east China's metropolis of Shanghai, one out of six of the elderly people want to live in "old people homes" with the hope of easing the burden on their children.

A survey shows that 16.8 percent of the income of urban senior citizens comes from their children.

Experts say that it necessary to carry on the fine tradition of the Chinese nation that young people support and take care of the elderly members of their families.



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