January 9, 2013 – A while ago, I read a story published by the Associated Press that astounded me; in fact, at the end of the day within my darkened and cloistered quietude, it brought tears to my eyes. This story has nothing to do with children's health and safety per se but I am compelled to give it air to breathe with the singular hope that it lands upon conscious minds as a heartfelt reminder. Where would we be without our parents?
How can you look into her eyes and pretend she doesn't exist? How can it be that she no longer suits your lifestyle? She gave birth to you, clothed you, fed you, took care of you when you were ill, and in her almighty capacity gave you everything - no matter what little she had – so that you might have a bright, healthy and promising future. You banished her from your life like some misbegotten plague - out of sight and out of mind. An aphasic response is not conducive to your parent's physical, mental and spiritual well-being – but it is undeniably self-serving and financially convenient.
I will never comprehend, nor in my intelligent but limited capacity, will I ever possess words that have the potential to encapsulate this woman's tormented heart. And while I vicariously empathize with the unyielding and unforgiving weight that she bears, I ardently concede to you that I merely write these words - she lives them.
China's national legislature amended a law with a new clause that concerns the elderly whereby adult children are required to visit their aged parents "often" or risk being sued. The South China Morning Post reported that elder abuse cases in Hong Kong have risen 15% in the last two years. “Because of Chinese culture, elderly people are reluctant to reveal the disgraceful affairs of their families,” commented the director of 'Against Elderly Abuse', an advocacy group.
Chinese news media, known for publishing stories about parents being abused or neglected, recently reported that a grandmother in her 90's living in the prosperous eastern province of Jiangsu was forced to live in a pigpen for two years by her son. There are hundreds of thousands of children seeking control of their parents' assets without their knowledge – not just in China but all over the world – in fact it happened in my own backyard – but that's another very sad and bewildering story.
For the past thirty years, market reforms perpetuated the disintegration of the traditional, extended family causing difficulty in caring for its aging population, and to make matters worse, there are few affordable alternatives such as retirement or extended-care homes. China's elderly population is progressively stimulated by an increase in life expectancy – from 41 to 73 over the past five decades and a rapidly aging population is creating a serious threat to the country's social and economic stability. The onus of support and care for the growing number of elderly is being passed on to a proportionately shrinking, working population partially caused by the 'Family Planning Policy' issued in 1979 that limited most families to having a single child.
It saddens me to no end that an abandoned parent's only chance of seeing her children and grandchildren is through the legal system. The amendment does not specify how frequently children should visit their parents and the word "often" has not been clearly delineated.
China has 1.35 billion people – the largest population in the world and nearly 167 million people are over the age of 60. The amended law is attempting to sustain the family unit in China but more so, is searching for ways to ensure that the oldest and weakest members of society receive good care. In a country that is renowned for its authoritarian control one can only hope they find a solution that would benefit and honour the very people whose backs the country was built upon.
If I held your attention to this point, would you please allow me a kindness? Hug your parents and your grandparents. Call them, send them a card, write them a letter, and tell them how much you love them and miss them – better yet visit them. They need to hear your voice, look into your eyes, and listen to your laughter - more than you will ever know.
Bertrand Russell, a philosopher and historian wrote, "Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind."
If, and when, the elderly are left to their own inconsistent and precarious devices, they survive by day and reminisce by night - and over time 'wanting' becomes 'needing' and 'needing' – grows paramount.