Childless elderly get netizens' help

Updated: 2012-08-14 03:19

By He Dan (China Daily)

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An online campaign to help people who have lost their only child has prompted China's netizens to help the country's elderly.

A large number of older people in China are left in financial and social limbo after their only child dies, Deng Fei, a journalist from the magazine Phoenix Weekly, said in his micro blog on Sina Weibo, a popular micro-blogging platform, on July 30.

Deng, who has 2.26 million fans on Sina Weibo, urged netizens to contribute ideas to help people who have lost their only child and struggle with problems related to aging.

Deng's message was forwarded about 3,000 times and commented on more than 1,000 times as of Monday afternoon.

Lu Jiehua, a social-demographics professor at Peking University and a member of the National Population and Family Planning Commission's expert team, told China Daily that an estimated 1 million households have lost their only child.

The online campaign is named Yinuanbingxin, which means "using the power of philanthropy to warm broken hearts".

Yu Wenyan, who is in charge of an online discussion group for volunteers in the campaign, said: "We have more than 400 volunteers in three QQ groups," referring to the instant-messaging service.

"One group is for people who can lend a hand to people who lost a child in their cities, one group is for people who want to share ideas for an old-age support system, and one is for volunteers who are legal experts or journalists."

Yu said two volunteers in Wuhan, Hubei province, visited Wang Baoxia, a 53-year-old mother in the city's No 5 Hospital. Wang needed surgery on her right leg. She had been disabled as a result of her deformed spine and a depressed sciatic nerve.

Wang lost her son in 2004 and divorced her husband two years ago.

The hospital initially refused to operate on Wang because she had no relative to sign the surgery agreement and the retired woman was unable to afford the surgery, Yu said.

On Aug 5, two volunteers and staff from a mutual-aid organization for parents who have lost their only child persuaded the population and family planning commission in Hanyang district of Wuhan to pay for Wang's surgery, and the neighborhood committee of Wang's community to sign the surgery agreement.

Unfortunately, Wang died in surgery on Aug 7, Yu said.

Jiang Li, whose daughter died in a car accident when she was studying in the United States four years ago, said she is grateful for the volunteers' efforts but expressed concern.

"Many people like me are heartbroken after losing our children. We are afraid to talk to volunteers as most of them are young and we cannot help but recall unhappy memories," said Jiang, from Yingkou city in Liaoning province.

The 57-year-old said volunteers should not just rely on the Internet because many people in need do not know how to use a computer.

"What we badly need is legislation and policy changes, which can guarantee that we can be taken care of when we are struggling with disease or poverty," she said.

Li Jianrong, a retired family planning official from a State-owned company in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, said she would give birth to a second child if she could choose again, China Youth Daily reported on Wednesday.

The only son of the 64-year-old woman died from a tumor this April.

Li aborted her second baby when her son was 5 years old and the country had just started its family planning policy.

Li used to tell her female colleagues of childbearing age to stop worrying about the risks of the family planning policy.

"This is not a problem that you should worry about, the government will solve it," Li used to say in response to questions about what would happen if the only child were to die.

Deng, of Phoenix Weekly, said the online campaign may not solve the problem totally, but it is expected to prompt the government to act.

Local governments provide a minimum of 100 yuan ($15.7) in monthly subsidies for parents who have lost their only child after the mother reaches 49. But to qualify for the subsidy, the couple is not allowed to have another child or adopt one before the mother turns 49, according to a program launched by the National Population and Family Planning Commission in 2007.

The commission told China Daily on Monday that about 1.64 billion yuan has been spent from 2005 to 2010 to subsidize 1.36 million people whose only child either has died or become paralyzed.

The government of Fujian province recently announced that qualified households can receive an annual subsidy of 4,800 yuan starting from August, local media reported on Wednesday.

Family planning authorities in Beijing said on July 22 that the municipal government provides a monthly subsidy of 200 yuan for each of the parents who meets the standards.

Shan Juan contributed to this story.

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