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.

"We want to live in an old people's home with other people like us," said 50-year-old Shi Hui, whose only son died of cancer in 2012. "We don't want to live in an ordinary old people's home. When other people's children come to visit...we wouldn't be able to take that."

More and more shidu parents have travelled to Beijing in a bid to have their voices heard.

SIT-IN

In May, about 400 people staged a sit-in outside the National Health and Family Planning Commission's headquarters.

One of their strongest arguments is that the compensation on offer pales in contrast to the huge fines paid by parents who break the one-child rule, proceeds of which amounted to 20 billion yuan (S$4 billion) from 24 provinces in 2012.

Madam Xie did not think of having a second child when she was young because that would have meant she and her husband, who both worked at state factories, would have lost their jobs.

"At the time, the slogan went that 'birth control is good, the state will look after the old'. I hope the government shall do what it says," Madam Xie told Reuters. "My biggest fear is that some day I might die at home and no one will know."

Shidu couples believe their case is different to other disadvantaged groups, as theirs is a direct result of national policy.

"All I want is for someone to call and visit us when we fall ill," said 53-year-old Xu from north-eastern Liaoning province.

"What we want is not assistance or charity, but the government to be responsible.


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