New elderly law misinterpreted by netizens

By Liu Zhun Source:Global Times Published: 2013-7-7 23:43:02


Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Adults who rarely visit their aging parents had better watch out! China's newly revised law to protect the elderly has become a Damocles sword hanging above the heads of these grown-ups.

The Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, which barely drew any attention since it was launched in 1996, has been ushered into the spotlight of public opinion for the first time due to a new revision.

On July 1, the psychological needs of the elderly became an important indicator of whether they are being well provided for by their children. A slight amendment to one article in this law has sparked growing debate over the rationality and legitimacy of the revision.

On Weibo, the new law was met with ridicule. Some sniff that this legislation ignores the fact that many children who work far from home cannot come back to visit their parents regularly because of their heavy workloads and scarce vacation time.

Others point out that there are no concrete punishments on violations or exact standards to gauge how much "care" is needed.

The Internet has produced a free environment in which anyone can express their ideas. Online comments and discussions converge into a flow of opposition against the authorities.

Whether government-led policies are right or wrong, the action of challenging them, in netizens' minds, already constitutes a "victory."

This opposing-for-sake-of-opposing mindset, which is increasingly gaining the upper hand on the Internet, serves an unconstructive role in the implementation of the new elderly law.

The heated debate, to a large extent, is believed to have been fanned by plenty of blind reposts.

For most netizens, their knowledge of the amendment is based on a few garbled interpretations provided by certain media or individuals.

There are three stipulations in this newly revised article, and a professional analysis of the provisions will reveal that the article is softly regulated and one that places emphasis on guidance.

Among the three stipulations, the most controversial is the second provision, which requires that family members who live separately from their parents "visit" and "keep in touch with" them regularly.

Unfortunately, this provision has been misinterpreted as a demand that adults must come back home and meet their aging parents on a regular basis, even from great distances.

What's more, many people who do not have enough legal awareness condemn this article, because in their minds, it does not carry a mandatory penalty on those who violate it.

However, it should be noted that not all legal provisions should come with a guidebook of punishments.

For example, the marriage law requires a couple to be honest with each other. But the law does not punish anyone just because one side has an affair. The revision has left enough space for judges to exercise discretion.

This new revision, which is supposed to play a positive role in cultivating people's awareness of caring for the elderly, should not be distorted.

The new law filled a gap left by neglect for the psychological needs of the elderly. It is not inappropriate to integrate a traditional moral obligation with a legal duty as long as the legitimate rights of the elderly can be protected.

This new amendment has provided a much clearer legal basis for the courts to deal with such cases.

On the same day this new law came into effect, a couple in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, was handed a verdict by the local court that decided the couple should visit the wife's mother at least once every two months.

The couple had not visited or kept in touch with her for a long time after a family quarrel.

It is a good sign that Chinese legislation has been properly and humanely expanding its influence to protect the legitimate rights of the disadvantaged.

Hopefully, this new law will be expected to play a constructive role in curbing some social problems, such as the "empty nest" homes incurred by the massive labor flow into rural areas.

The author is a Global Times reporter Liu Zhun.

Posted in: Viewpoint

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