Under a draft amendment to existing legislation on old people's rights, elderly parents will be able to take their sons or daughters to court if they fail to look after their mental and physical well-being, the state-run Global Times reports. Wu Ming, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said the updated bill would also require children to regularly pop home and see their folks.
The new law underlines the massive social change China has experienced in recent years. For centuries, it was expected that children would feed, house and care for their aged parents. "Back when China was a rural, agrarian society, you would often have four generations living under one roof," professor Shujie Yao, head of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at England's Nottingham University, told AOL News. "It is a central part of the philosophy of Confucius that the young look up to the old and the old respect the young."
However, that system depended on parents having large families, so there'd always be a child around to look after Ma and Pa, even if the siblings left the nest. But thanks to China's one-child policy, most parents are now dependent on a single son or daughter. Many of those only children are forced to leave the seniors behind when they head off to the booming cities in search of work.
At least half of China's 160 million over-60s now live alone, according to the People's Daily. And those lonely seniors are more likely to suffer from depression and health problems than oldsters living with relatives.
Yao says that "the vast majority" of Chinese still want to look after their parents and grandparents -- migrant workers often send a large chunk of the wages home -- and that only a small minority "are not as caring as society expects." He supports the amended law as a means to force neglectful children to live up to their responsibilities.
However, many young Chinese say the new law will be impossible to enforce. Some complained on online message boards that it was almost impossible to return home on public holidays, as the train network couldn't cope with the millions of migrants eager to travel back to their families. Another noted that the demands of work meant they had little free time for themselves, let alone Mom and Dad.
"No one is reluctant to return home to visit parents," the Web user said, according to the Global Times. "But I often have to work at weekends, even during the official holidays."