Visit your parents, or else: jail

Chu, 77, did not wait to act very long after a revised law making it mandatory for children to take care their parents’ mental health besides their financial needs came into effect earlier this month.

Within a day of the revised law being implemented, she went to the nearest court and sued her daughter and son-in-law in Wuxi in Jiangsu in eastern China, saying they had not visited her even once after a family fight last year.

The verdict was swift: the court ordered the daughter to visit her mother at least once every two months. Failing to do so could lead to a fine or even detention for both wife and husband, if the angry mother – or a potentially more dangerous mother-in-law so requested the court.

The new law directs all adult children to provide mental support, in addition to financial support and life care, to their parents once they reach the age of 60. “Family members who live apart from elderly should regularly visit and greet them,” it stipulates.

Interestingly, it requires employers to provide 20 days of paid home leave to employees whose parents live far away.

The law quite expectedly triggered controversy and debate. Much of online comments, according to reports, did not question the sentiment behind doing up the old law but raised doubts about how plausible it was to implement it.

“The revised Law for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly has already begun to trigger wide-spread debate as to whether it’s appropriate for the government to meddle in families personal affairs,” even the state-run Xinhua news agency ran a report about the divided opinion the law generated.

As of the end of 2011, there were 185 million people at or above the age of 60, which is just under 14-percent of the country’s total population.

And as of 2012, elderly people living separately from their younger families surpassed 62 million here in China, the report said, adding that it meant that 1 in 3 seniors here in China live apart from their family.

But how much can mandatory legislations – especially those as ambitious in scope as this – help in preserving family and filial values?

The opinion seems to be that love and respect cannot be forced on people especially on a single-child generation, millions of whom have moved to faraway cities to purse their commercial version of the Chinese Dream.

“Forcing families to spend time together under the threat of punishment could drive families apart. Being taken to court by one’s parents would surely only breed resentment, and making visits compulsory will not provide the warmth and affection many elderly relatives crave,’’ said another commentary in Global Times, an affiliate of the Communist Party of China (CPC) primary mouthpiece, People’s Daily.

It called the law vague, sketchy and probably echoing many people’s subliminal thoughts, downright absurd.

Some also see it as a reversal of Mao-era dictat that the Party of was above everything including the family.

As for me, I feel unlucky that this law of showing compulsory filial piety will not be applicable on me. I would really love to visit my parents back in Kolkata for at least 20 days every year.

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