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Parents say family planning policy left them alone in old age

(Global Times)    15:08, May 11, 2015
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Zhao Ruxian withdrew from life for two years after her only child died. She became depressed after her only daughter killed herself over a failed relationship, and time alone could not ease her suffering.

"I almost cut all my connections with the outside world. Those who have not suffered the same pain can never understand my suffering," Zhao said.

But on Tuesday, Zhao took a train from her hometown of Tianjin to Beijing, joining other parents who have lost their children at a protest in front of the National Health and Family Planning Commission(NHFPC).

By fighting alongside others for more support from the government in their old age, the 52-year-old single mother is not alone any more.

Security slipping away

More than 700 parents from 29 provinces and cities in China gathered in front of the commission, located in Xicheng district in Beijing on May 5.

China introduced its family-planning policy in the late 1970s, which limited most families to having only one child.

"We come here to ask the government to live up to its responsibility in supporting us as it promised, since we followed the family planning policy and had only one child," a representative surnamed Sun, who lost his only son in 2009, told the Global Times.

In Chinese culture, many parents expect their children to care for them in their old age.

Sun and Zhao are among more than 1 million parents in China who not only suffer from the pain of losing their only child but have to worry about how to cope in their old age without the support of their children.

According to statistics released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the number of families that have lost their only child will reach 2.7 million by 2030 and 11 million by 2050.

"The number of families who lost their only child is increasing quickly, and the older these people get, the more related problems there will be," Wang Guangzhou, a researcher with the Institute of Population and Labor Economics at the CASS, told the Global Times.

"About 97 percent of the elderly rely on their children to give them physical and mental support, and the imperfect social insurance system for the aged in China makes life for these families more difficult," Ma Li, director of the China Population and Development Research Center, told the Global Times.

For 63-year-old Shi Xueping from Tianjin, who lost her child in 1998 and was diagnosed with cancer in December 2014, it seems that all she is left with is the pain of longing for her departed one and struggling with disease. "I have received chemotherapy treatment several times, and it costs more than 2,000 yuan ($322) a month for my husband and I to buy our daily medicines," Shi said.

Shi said that although her husband and she can get a 1,000 yuan subsidy from the Health and Family Planning Commission in Tianjin and a 4,000 yuan monthly pension, money remains a big concern if she keeps taking medicine after the chemotherapy treatment.

In December 2013, the NHFPC together with four other bureaus announced an increase in the subsidy to these families to 340 yuan for urban residents and 170 yuan for rural residents.

The subsidy varies in different regions in accordance with the local financial situation, and it is not usually paid monthly, according to Shi. "Although the government has asked related departments to give support to us in receiving medical treatment or entering nursing homes, doing this still requires the agreement of the immediate family," Shi said.

Sharing the same pain

Difficulties in daily life are not the only things that beset these parents. The agony of losing their only child makes it hard to maintain connections with old acquaintances.

"I'd rather not to speak to others in daily life after my daughter died for fear of spreading the 'bad luck' to them. And I stopped meeting with my friends or other relatives, for most of their conversations centered around their children or grandchildren, which are the last things I want to hear about," Zhao said.

Zhao draws comfort from talking with other families experiencing the same circumstances. They keep in touch via online chat groups.

"There is at least one online chat group in every province and many national ones, where we could mourn our departed children, share information about government policies and more importantly, take care of each other," said, Xiao Shaoqi, 51, from Hunan Province, who is an administrator of many online chat groups.

They raise money for those who need medical treatment but have financial difficulties, Xiao said. They also will check in on people who they haven't heard from in a while.

In October 2014, Xiao and Nie Heping, 65, who lost her child in 2004, founded an association in Huaihua, Hunan Province, for the local families who lost their only child to help each other.

"We help parents move past their sorrows at the loss of a child by talking to them and organizing group activities," Nie said.

According to Nie, they received 15,000 yuan from the local government in 2014 to help organize activities, but they are still short of the money needed to help more parents.

"We also hope to get more psychological counseling from professionals and connections with other social organizations," Nie said.

But they still need the government to improve the system for the aged and resolve the financial problems of these families, said Ma.

The parents also want the government to take on the responsibility of supporting them, according to Sun.

"The government needs to give compensation to these families who have made sacrifice for the development of the country, although it means more financial burden. This is the price we must pay for implementing the one-child policy," Ma said.

Beijing seniors who lost their only child will be provided care in government-subsidized nursing homes, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday.

Zhao and other parents have been protesting in front of the bureau for four days, asking the government to support them. Zhao said that all she wants is that the government builds some special nursing homes for these parents.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Zhang Yuan,Huang Jin)

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