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January 31, 2013

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Help lags for seniors whose only child dies

LYING in his bed, Tang Jiankang, a 63-year-old man with motor neuron disease (MND), worried about finding a person to replace his ayi since the current one, who had turned 70, decided to retire.

Tang's worry might not be so acute if his only son had not died 12 years ago.

Other concerns: The subsidy offered by the city to each retired parent who lost their only child lags behind those of other major cities, and the support system such as nursing homes also lags behind the need.

For Tang, there's little to do besides reading, listening to the radio and watching TV because his physical abilities have been decreasing since he was 30 and it is not possible for an MND patient to live without an ayi or other help, he said.

"It's very hard to find a good and responsible ayi and after that expense, there is not much left of my monthly pension, despite a subsidy of 150 yuan (US$24.10) every month from the government," he said.

The monthly subsidy for a retired person who lost an only child is too low considering the current cost of living, said Zhang Lili, president of Shanghai Women's Federation, at the Shanghai People's Congress yesterday.

In Beijing the subsidy is 200 yuan and in Tianjin, 270 yuan per parent, and the Shanghai subsidy and apparently lags behind the city's economic development, the federation said.

Shanghai offers a one-time subsidy of 5,000 yuan for each family and the monthly subsidy of 150 yuan for each parent when they reach the legal retirement age, 50 for women and 60 for men, if they decide not to have another child or adopt a child, according to a policy started in 2008.

Zhang said the city government should increase the one-time subsidy from 5,000 yuan to 8,000 yuan and lift the monthly subsidy to around 250 yuan to 300 yuan for such families.

Local legislators and political advisers are also asking the city government to cancel the age limit implemented in 2008 that says a subsidy is not paid if the child dies when he's older than 16. The number of families whose children died in their 20s is also on the rise.

But money was not Tang's only concern. "I know a lot of parents who lost their only child. There may be a difference among everyone's requests but we all need better care, including our pension, health care and mental support," Tang said.

"I hope I can move to a good senior's home before I turn 70 and when I die, I want it to be dignified."

Tang's son died in 2001. At that time Tang was in his 50s while his wife was in her 40s and the couple were no longer able to have another child.

Not willing to become a burden to his wife, Tang said they should divorce.

In Shanghai, there now are more than 7,000 families that have lost their only child and many of the parents have passed age 50, said the federation.

The actual number may be much bigger since some parents are unwilling to accept the subsidy, which reminds them of their child's death, and others aren't eligible because their children were over 16 when they died.

"These parents had abided by the one-child policy of the government, so the government should help them both mentally and financially when they get older and have no children to take care of them," said Zhang Yayu, party chief of the No.3 Tianshan Community of Changning District.

The community has about five such families. Many had big debt due to medical expenses of their late children.

From 2008 to 2011, the city government paid 80 million yuan to help such families.

"Parents who lost their only child suffer huge mental problems from their losses and the lack of medical care and daily care," Zhang said.

"The government allocates an average of 18 million yuan annually to subsidize the families. The increase on the subsidies will be no burden to the government finance," said Zhang, who is also a legislator.

Apart from subsidies, psychological counseling services also are badly needed. Otherwise, such parents are likely to lose hope and may commit suicide or cause disturbances in public, said Zhu Ming, vice president of the federation.

"The city government can build seniors' homes especially for the parents who lost their only child," said Huang Huimin, another legislator.

"These seniors' homes can work with local child welfare institutes to let them have contact with the children," Huang said, saying that is just what people like Tang need.

"I'm a reasonable man. I wouldn't go to Beijing to appeal like many of us do across the country," Tang added. "But I do hope the current system can be better and every department of the government could work together to help us."

Tang is better off than some - he is getting a limited amount of help from volunteers.

"I'm a lucky one. I met a lot of good people in the society," Tang said.

"There is a mature spirit of volunteerism in this society and many people and companies are warmhearted. I think that the government can organize them better."


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