Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Protect vulnerable senior citizens

By Wang Yiqing (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-04 08:54

Police in Xiayi county, Henan province, recently reported a serious case of sexual assault on elderly women who live alone. Police claim that from early 2011 to March 2014, the suspect Wang Jun has sneaked into the houses of more than 10 elderly women who live alone in nearby villages and raped them. The victims are aged between 73 and 95 years. The wave of heinous crime in Xiayi, which is part of Yemiao township, shows how vulnerable "left-behind" elderly people in rural areas are and exposes the loopholes in the public security and service systems. "Left behind" senior citizens in rural areas have become more vulnerable in recent years because of an increase in criminal activities. Although the Xiayi incident may be an extreme example, the media have been reporting that quite a few "left-behind" women and children are falling victims to sexual assaults, and many elderly people are living in miserable conditions and suffering from depression.

The migration of working age people to cities and towns in search of better livelihood is the main reason for the creation of "empty nests" in the countryside. China's rapid economic growth and urbanization have not only transformed cities over the past few decades, but also changed the rural landscape. According to National Bureau of Statistics figures, there were about 269 million rural migrant workers in China in 2013, and 166 million of them were working away from their home provinces. The average age of the migrant workers was 37.6 years, with about 67 percent of them being men. It's always the fact that the poorer a region, the higher the ratio of its migrant workers. Yemiao township, where the series of crimes took place, is a remote and poor countryside which seems to have been abandoned by development. It has only seven small private companies, which obviously cannot absorb the entire local labor force. Young and middle-aged people started migrating from Yemiao to cities in the 1990s. Now about 70 percent of the townships working-age population works in cities, which means a large percentage of Yemiao's elderly people have to not only live alone, but also fend for themselves. For example, in Chenzhuang village where many of the rape and theft victims live, 800 of the 1,700 villagers are aged above 65 years and 80 percent of them live alone.

Criminals see elderly and widowed women who live alone in the countryside as "soft targets" because they cannot protect themselves. Also, crimes committed against this vulnerable group either go undetected or take a long time to catch the media's attention, because households in rural areas are scattered and the area covered by a police station in the countryside is huge compared with cities.

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