China's orphaned parents

China's orphaned parents
51 year-old Tian Lianpu, father of the late Tian Yao, born in August 1990 and died in January 2012 of lymphoma, pauses as he drinks tea at home in Beijing, December 26, 2013.

China's one child policy has created a new group of people who need help - orphaned parents.

These are couples whose only child had died, leaving no one to look after them.

Take 60-year-old Madam Xie, whose only child Juanjuan died seven years ago. With her death at age 29, her parents joined China's more than a million "shidu" families, or those who have lost their only child.

"We Chinese always consider the child as the most important thing. If the child is gone, the whole family breaks down," said the retired senior technician living in south-eastern Jiangxi province, who declined to give her full name to protect her family's privacy.

Many shidu parents are victims of China's strict family planning policy, which since the late 1970s has restricted most families to one child, reported Reuters.

China says the policy has averted 400 million births, preventing the population from spiralling out of control. But now it plans to ease the restrictions, fearing that they are undermining economic growth and contributing to a rapidly ageing population the country has no hope of supporting financially.

Last Thursday, the National Health and Family Planning Commission announced an increase in compensation for shidu couples - although it failed to raise much cheer ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, or Spring Festival, at the end of the month.

Couples in which the woman is 49 or older will get 340 yuan (S$70) per person each month if they live in a city and 170 yuan if they live in the countryside from next year. Shidu parents had demanded 3,150 yuan per person each month.

Couples are currently entitled to 135 yuan a month, based on rules set in 2012, although some provinces give significantly more, in some cases up to 1,000 yuan.

The compensation falls far short of expectations in a country where there is little in the way of welfare or health benefits. And some shidu couples have further needs.

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