BEIJING - People who are unable to visit their parents can now get help online - by hiring someone to go in their place.
At taobao.com, one of China's major online retail platforms, there are more than 30 services connected to visiting seniors. The costs range from 10 yuan (S$2) to 5,000 yuan.
The services come in the wake of a new law on the protection of senior citizens' rights, which came into effect on July 1 and stipulates that people should visit or contact their elderly parents often.
A Shenzhen-based shop owner, whose online username is "inse01:e4", said his staff could visit elderly people across the country.
"Our staff members can visit your home to talk to your parents, send gifts to them and do simple housework for them. The service is 20 yuan per hour," said the shopkeeper. "We can teach elderly people how to use mobile phones and household appliances." Customers pay for transport and gift expenses.
Another service provider in Hunan province named "yxh200688" posted a notice at the Taobao shop, advertising full-time mothers willing to visit elderly people within the province.
She said one or two people would visit the client's parents, chat with them and play greetings videos from the client.
They can write a visit report, take a picture or make a video of the parents to let the client know about their parents' condition.
The fee for such services is 300 yuan per visit, excluding transportation and extra payments for gifts.
"My parents were very happy to be accompanied by you. Your service is considerate and I will buy it next time," said a comment left by a customer of a Xi'an-based online shop.
However, few have signed up for the service, which has received mixed reactions from the public.
Ms Wang Chunyuan, 19, from a Shanghai university, said she wouldn't hire someone to visit her parents.
"I will see my parents by myself. The affection between family members can't be bought," said Ms Wang, adding that she would worry about her parents' safety if they were visited by strangers.
But Mr Mu Guowei, a 26-year-old from Henan province who works in the real-estate industry, said he would consider such a service because he is busy with work and goes home only once a year.
Dr Yuan Xin, an expert on ageing-population studies at Nankai University, said: "Money can't buy love and care between family members."
He added that it might hurt the feelings of parents.
"Elderly people could be visited by volunteers organised by non-profit organisations, based on the experience of foreign countries. Besides, the community should play a part in looking after senior people."