Home alone

Bereaved parents look for government compensation

A 73-year-old local woman pauses as she prays for good fortune outside Dafo Temple on the Lantern Festival in Zhengding County

National Family Planning Commission faces backlash from elderly

“Have only one child and the government will take care of you” was the promise made in 1985 by China’s National Family Planning Commission. The pledge came at a time when enforcement of the one-child policy was ramping up.

Thirty years on, however, and many Chinese are questioning the commitment, especially parents who have suffered from their children dying before them, a misery suffered by 76,000 families every year.

Hence one group of bereaved parents is campaigning for greater compensation for their loss.

The government currently pays a monthly stipend of Rmb340 ($54.54) to urban families and Rmb170 to rural ones who have lost their offspring. But these amounts are regarded as pitifully small compared to the help – financial and otherwise – that many adult Chinese daughters (and sons) give their greying parents.

“I responded to the national family planning policy and I fulfilled my obligation as a citizen, but now, we’ve lost our only supporters. We shouldn’t be asked to face this alone,” Mrs Di, the group’s leader told Legal Evening News.

“I don’t even know who is going bury me,” she added.

Aside from loneliness, parents in the group suffer from more practical difficulties. For example, most hospitals require the signature of a close relative before conducting an operation, while many pensioners are unable to get credit cards without offspring to guarantee them.

Some of the campaigners now lament they were so law abiding in their youth and are encouraging others to have more than a single child, even if it means punitive fines.

Earlier this year the government increased the number of one-child-policy-exemptions to include urban families where only one parent is a single child, allowing them to have a second baby. Previously only rural families, ethnic minorities and urban households where the parents were both only children could have a second child.

It is too early to see how many households will take advantage of the changes to the law but anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers might be quite low. Many families cite the cost of raising a second child as the prohibiting factor, which suggests that a lot more parents could be left without the filial support of a grown-up child – assuming similar mortality rates.

It doesn’t look like any additional financial support is coming from Beijing to deal with the straitened circumstances. Last week, two years after Di and her group submitted their petition, the National Family Planning Commission finally responded, thanking them for their “contribution to population control and rapid economic growth”.

But it went on to say: “There is no causal link between state policy and the death of your children. Therefore, there can be no compensation.”

One father, writing to Shandong province’s Liaocheng Evening News, described the response as “ice cold”.

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