A growing number of elderly care services are being registered on Taobao.com, one of China's largest online shopping sites, offering to visit customers' aged parents, buy their groceries or even just a chat.
More than 100 new online elderly care service providers have been registered since a Chinese law requiring family members to visit their aging parents came into effect. The amended Law for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly came into force on July 1.
The law stipulates that relatives should attend to the spiritual needs of their elderly family members. Those who live separately from their elderly relatives should visit them regularly.
As a result of the amended law, there has been an increase in the number of registered online businesses offering elderly care services, which has raised concerns over the absence of filial piety, the respect of one's parents.
Such services are an alternative for young Chinese people to perform their filial piety as they are too busy to visit elderly relatives.
Costs of services range from 10 yuan ($1.63) to 2,000 yuan.
One of the online stores on Taobao.com called Rainbow has more than 1,000 registered staff members in provincial cities around China. It has sold 92 services over the past two weeks.
"There has been a rise in trade since the revised law took effect, with an increasing number of people wanting such services, " a Rainbow employee called Andy told Xinhua.
He said the company provides all-day services for seniors, costing 150 yuan but excluding staff members' travel expenses.
A separate online store owner from southern China's Guangdong province said they are still conducting market research and will look to charge about 9,999 yuan per service, dedicated to providing first-class services.
Many elderly people suffer from loneliness and depression as their needs are largely neglected.
By the end of 2012, 194 million people in China were over the age 60, an increase of 8.91 million compared with 2011, according to a report by China Research Center on Aging.
The number of people aged 60 or above is expected to reach 202 million by the end of this year, or 14.8 percent of the total population, while the country's working population is shrinking, said the report.
"The law was originally made to advocate the love and care for one's elderly parents. It is more of an endorsement for filial piety than a cluster of legal clauses," said Wu Zhonghua, a lawyer at the Jinfeng Huachang Law Firm in east China's Jiangxi province.
Wu said the law reveals a general lack of affection between family members in society.
"Online elderly care services provide a complement to what the law requires, but fundamentally, love and care from family members are irreplaceable for older people," Wu added.
"It is reasonable for young people to entrust the task of visiting their elderly relatives to online elderly care service providers," said Shu Man, head of the Psychological Counseling Center at the Nanchang-based East China Jiaotong University.
Shu added it is probably the only choice for them because of mounting work pressures.