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Law for elderly creates a legal conundrum

By Hu Min (Shanghai Daily)

08:08, July 08, 2013

Two old people do morning exercise at a park in Jing'an District.
(Photo by Lan Hui/ Shanghai Daily)

Dai Jinxi, 81, lives alone in a 30-square-meter apartment in Hongkou District. He visits parks, plays chess, chats with old friends and watches television to ease the pangs of loneliness.

Dai's wife has a mental disorder and is confined to a local care center. Their only daughter is married and living in the US. One son works in the inland province of Jiangxi, and another son, who lives in Shanghai, is estranged from his father after financial disputes. "If I said I don't feel lonely, it would be a lie," Dai said. "But reality makes it impossible to change the situation."

Dai, who suffers from cataracts, has an ayi, a housekeeper who takes care of daily domestic chores. He refuses to move to a home for the aged because he said such places make old people feel abandoned.

Dai is not alone in China, a country with a rapidly aging population. Many old people, cut off from their children for one reason or another, suffer loneliness and even depression.

Enter the government. The National People's Congress amended the Law on Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged to make it illegal to neglect the "spiritual needs" of the elderly. A clause in the amendment, which came into effect on July 1, stipulates that children have to visit elderly parents regularly or at least keep in touch with them in some way. Those who don't comply may face prosecution.

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