New China law says children 'must visit parents'

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File photo: a group of elderly men take a rest on their wheelchairs at a park in Beijing on 23 May 2013
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China's elderly population is expected to double by 2030

Grown children in China must visit their parents or potentially face fines or jail, a new law that came into effect on Monday says.

China's new "Elderly Rights Law" deals with the growing problem of lonely elderly people by ordering adult children to visit their ageing parents.

The law says adults should care about their parents "spiritual needs" and "never neglect or snub elderly people".

The regulation has been ridiculed by tens of thousands of Chinese web users.

Many across China are questioning how the law could be enforced, since it fails to spell out a detailed schedule dictating the frequency with which children should make parental house calls.

"Those who live far away from parents should go home often," it says.

However, that does not mean the law is toothless.

Instead, it serves as an "educational message" to the public, while also serving as a starting point for law suits, explained Zhang Yan Feng, a lawyer with Beijing's King & Capital Law Firm.

"It's hard to put this law into practice, but not impossible," Mr Zhang explained.

"If a case is brought to court on the basis of this law, I think it'll probably end up in a peaceful settlement. But if no settlement is reached, technically speaking, court rulings can force the person to visit home certain times a month."

"If this person disobeys court rulings, he could be fined or detained."

'Spontaneous emotions'

But few in China seem to fear they will end up behind bars if they fail to log visits home.

"Who doesn't want to visit home often? What is considered "often"? Who will oversee the process?" complained one poster on weibo, China's version of Twitter.

"We all know to cherish our elderly parents, but sometimes we are just too busy trying to make a living and the pressure is too much."

"It's fine that no-one is paying for us to visit our parents, but is there someone who can give us time off to do it?" asked another.

The question of how to deal with ageing parents is a mounting problem in China.

According to Chinese government statistics, more than 178 million people in China were 60 years or older in 2010. By 2030, that figure will double.

As China's population goes grey, the Chinese media fills with stories of neglected old people.

Many were shocked by the story of a 91-year-old grandmother who was beaten and forced out of her home in China's southern Jiangsu province after she asked her daughter-in-law for a bowl of rice porridge.

Two days later, internet forums were filled with a similar story of farmers in the same province who allowed their family's 100-year-old matriarch to sleep in a pig sty, sharing close quarters with a pungent pig.

But those stories have not lead most people to support the new Elderly Rights Law.

"Family bonds should be based on spontaneous emotions," argued one weibo user.

"It's funny to make it part of a law; it's like requiring couples to have a harmonious sex life after marriage."