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355,000 parents have lost only children

By Shan Juan  (China Daily)

08:29, June 07, 2013

Notice affirms measures for care and treatment of the elderly

Li Minglan hates Spring Festival, especially the sound of firecrackers.

The 58-year-old resident of Wuhan, Hubei province, said the occasion reminds her of happy family reunions.

"But I can only visit my son at his tomb now," said Li, who lost her only son to a cerebral hemorrhage in 1999. He was 21 years old.

Li is not alone. At the end of last year, 355,000 parents aged 49 or older had lost their only child, according to a notice from the National Health and Family Planning Commission released on Thursday.

It is the first time the commission has acknowledged such a figure openly. Previous estimates set the number at about 10 million households.

"Fully recognizing the difficulties these parents face, particularly when it comes to elderly care, treatment for major diseases, and emotional comfort, the commission is pushing for favorable policies to support them," the notice stated.

A timetable for these policies has not yet been established.

Since last year, the commission has carried out a series of field studies in 10 provinces, which has helped future support measures.

Li, who in 2007 founded the Heart-to-Heart Family Association, a mutual support group for parents, said State-level policies are long overdue. "Without them, local governments can't follow up," she added.

Her organization covers 300 households in Wuhan, with ages ranging from 50 to 67. Citywide, there are more than 6,000 families, she said, citing figures from the previous population census.

"Most have long been struggling with scarce financial support from the government and long-term mental anguish from the loss of a child," Li said. "Losing a child is like having all hope in family life crushed, and it is even harder and more traumatic for women who can no longer conceive."

Due to limited social security programs, family and children still play a major role in care for the elderly on the Chinese mainland, said Yuan Xin, a professor of population studies at Nankai University.

One-child families follow the family planning policy, sacrificing their own interests and rights to decide the family size, so "particularly those who lost child, should be compensated by the government both financially and psychologically", he said.

Starting in 2007, the population commission issued policies supporting parents aged 49 and over who lost their child to accidents or disease, according to the notice.

In Wuhan in 2009, parents like Li started to receive a monthly subsidy of 150 yuan ($24.50) per person. That figure increased to 210 yuan last year, Li said, but added, "It is still quite low. We expect at least 1,000 yuan per parent per month."

Such support policies vary from region to region.

Yuan said exact measures could hardly be uniform given real situations and differing needs.

In Jilin province, government projects have been launched mainly to provide mental support for such families, the commission said.

Other measures such as free technical support on reproduction among those who are able and willing to have another child, and social security programs offering care and medical insurances to the elderly have also been implemented in some provinces, it added.

Li said these are not enough. "We would appreciate it if the government set up a special agency taking care of parents like us, particularly when we are old, sick or cannot live independently anymore," she said.

Yuan, however, said that is not feasible and added, "We can't expect the government to take care of everything and such things should be done by social forces like NGOs."

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