Poor rural elderly deserve attention
Updated: 2006-12-03 10:52
About 1,000 poor elderly in Chongqing receive quilts and
allowances in this January 21, 2005 file photo for the traditional
Spring Festival. [Xinhua]
A 71-year-old vagrant who sought to spend his remaining years in prison has
aroused widespread concern over the well-being of China's 120 million elderly
people, particularly the 90 million in rural areas who often fall through the
welfare safety net.
With no home and no money, Li Zhaokun decided prison
was the best place for him. On November 9, he deliberately started a fire in a
mountain forest in Zhongshan, a manufacturing center in the southern province of
Investigators found Li had finished a five-year term on
charges of arson only a week before, but he said he wanted to return to prison,
which promised food, shelter and an end to his lifelong vagrancy.
never had a document to prove his identity or residence and didn't even know
where he was from. He remembered begging with his parents as a child, and they
both died before he was 10.
As a young man he eked out a living by
begging, collecting junk and doing hard physical work. His subsistence became a
problem in 2001, when his life savings of 50,000 yuan (US$6,250) were
He attempted suicide twice, but each time was saved and
institutionalized for short periods. "They would let me go and tell me to seek
help from the local government in my hometown. I don't know where I'm from. Even
if I did, no one would recognize me there and I don't have an ID."
official at Guangzhou's civil affairs bureau said, "He needs to find out where
he's from. The local government in his hometown should take care of his needs
and probably send him to a senior citizens center."
Other cities were
not likely to provide for him because "relief funds for the homeless came from
local budgets and local taxpayers", the official said on condition of anonymity.
OLD CUSTOMS BREAKING DOWN
If being homeless is
the ultimate cause of Li's agony, thousands of other elderly people suffer just
as much even though they have a homeplace.
Vagrants of Li's age are
often seen begging at railway stations and tourist destinations in big cities.
Most are unattended by their children.
At least 90 percent of China's
900 million rural population fall through the welfare safety net and have no
adequate pension or medical care, which is largely available for the city
people, said Professor Yuan Xin, a sociologist with the Tianjin-based Nankai
The situation is getting worse as the number of rural
residents aged over 60 is increasing by 850,000 annually and is expected to hit
120 million in 20 years, he said.
Chinese farmers traditionally rely on
their children for support in old age. Nearly 94 percent of them still do, but
old customs like the obligation to venerate and care for the elderly are
As millions of young farmers joined the mass migration to
the urbanized east in the past decade, old people were left behind -- many with
little financial support but grandchildren to feed, a farmer-turned legislator
in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province found.
Zhai Yuhe, a deputy to
the provincial people's congress and owner of a private coal company, personally
financed a study of the situation of the elderly in the countryside at the end
of last year.
The results of the two-month
survey, which covered 10,400 peasants over 60 in 31 provinces, showed 45 percent
were not living with their children and five percent did not know where their
next meal would come from; 69 percent had just one set of clothes and 67 percent
couldn't afford medicine.
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