The family planning policy, launched in the late 1970s, has made an indelible contribution to population control in China, which saw a population explosion from the 1950s to 1970s. However, it is not without its problems, such as the loss of the only child at a time when the parents are unable to reproduce, meaning they require social support and services.
The sudden death of an only child is a tragedy for any middle-aged or elderly parents. Civil affair departments have increased their financial aid to 300 yuan for each parent a month in Shanghai, which is the highest in China, but this is still insufficient.
According to incomplete data from the Ministry of Health, there are 40,000 to 50,000 accidental deaths of children under the age of 15 a year in China, about two and a half times higher than that in the United States. The psychological damages and costs incurred fall on the parents.
There is a book titled Long Mourning of My Son, written by a broken-hearted father in memory of his 20-year-old son who died of cancer in the city of Jinan, as a junior college student in 2001. The family spent all their savings to care for the young man during his last nine months. The father compared his feelings during his last few days with his son as being like a death sentence. Ten years have now passed since their son passed away, but the suffering of the parents has not been eased by time.
After the natural disasters in western China in the past two years, the government has paid more attention to caring for families that have lost children. But it could do more to provide financial and psychological assistance to these families and it should revise the relevant laws and regulations.
The family planning policy should not only focus on population control, it should also provide support and services for parents who abide by the policy but lose their only child.
The government has enough economic resources to improve the social welfare system for families who have lost an only child. The authorities should establish support foundations, provide a home-based care system or open nursing homes for these elderly parents.
Sympathy and respect for the elderly is a time-honored tradition in China. In ancient times, social care for the childless elderly was provided by the clan structure. Today it should be regarded as an indispensable part of the modern social security network in China.
The high costs of child rearing and changes in lifestyle and attitude mean another population explosion is unlikely to come any time soon, so a study should be undertaken to assess the affects of the family planning policy, as the aging population and transformation of the economic growth model may demand a timely adjustment of the policy.
The author is a civil engineer at a State-owned construction group in Jinan.
(China Daily 11/24/2010 page8)