FROM today, Chinese people will have to visit their elderly parents regularly or at least keep in touch with them in some way. It's the law.
In an attempt to improve the well-being of the elderly, the amended Law of Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged rules it is illegal for people to neglect the "spiritual needs" of the elderly.
It's already a legal requirement for sons and daughters to see to their parents' physical needs.
However, a new clause says that family members who do not live with their parents should visit or "greet them" frequently.
If people do not obey this clause, parents can apply for mediation or bring the case to court.
The law was passed by the National People's Congress in December but there are still questions over what constitutes frequent visits to parents, who are defined in the law as those aged 60 and above, and living on their own.
"It is still unclear in the law how often people should visit," said Xu Zhenhua, a Shanghai lawyer. "Also, there is no clarification of the punishment for people who break this clause of the law."
"Greeting" parents frequently, as opposed to visiting them, was introduced in later drafts of the law as an accepted form of catering to their spiritual needs.
"It may be the result of taking consideration of the massive number of migrant workers who can't afford frequent visits home, which may be thousands of miles away," Xu said.
By the end of last year, 193.9 million people, or 14.3 percent of the Chinese mainland population, were aged 60 or above, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
In 2011, the number was 185 million, or 13.7 percent of the total. The group is estimated to rise to 17.1 percent by 2020. And from 2021 and 2050, about 31 percent will be over 60.
"It has been a cultural tradition for Chinese to take the responsibility of caring for the old," said Chen Haoran, a law professor at Fudan University. "But the reality is that many people just can't perform this responsibility, either intentionally or unintentionally."
China has about 400 million migrant workers - people who have left their rural hometowns to work and settle in large cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.
Bigger cities usually mean more job opportunities, higher incomes and a better future for young people, but many have left aging parents back home.
A survey by China Central Television found that about 11.9 percent of people had not visited their parents in years while 33.4 percent saw them just once a year.
By late last night, more than 123,512 people had voted in a poll on Sina.com about the clause, with 55.2 percent supporting it as a means to urge people to care more about the elderly, but 25.7 percent doubting how it could work in practice.
About 17 percent of respondents said they opposed the clause because caring for the elderly was a question of ethics and not something that should be governed by legislation.
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