Despite the vagueness in wording, the newly amended Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly should be embraced for its attempt to address the issue of senior citizens neglected by their children.
According to the law, which took effect on Monday, adult citizens should visit or keep in touch with elderly family members on a regular basis.
The amendment has raised controversy since it was made public, with some saying it is inappropriate to use the law to force people to exercise filial piety, which they believe is a moral imperative. Some have also criticized the law because it has no specifics on how often people should visit their parents, nor the punishments that are to be meted out to violators. Others have said it is necessary to prepare the country for the ageing society that looms ahead.
Regardless, turning what was a traditional moral obligation into a legal obligation will play a positive role in helping people realize that they have a duty of care to the elderly.
At a time when more and more young Chinese people are heading to big cities to make a living, leaving their parents behind, cultivating such an awareness is much needed.
The lack of care for the elderly by their children has become a growing problem. A survey conducted by China Central Television found that 11.9 percent of young respondents had not visited their parents in years, while 33.4 percent saw them just once a year.
And according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, there were 185 million people aged 60 or older in China at the end of 2011, accounting for 13.7 percent of the population. The number is expected to exceed 200 million this year.
Considering there is no instant way to raise people's sense of responsibility toward elderly citizens, it is perhaps not such a bad idea to make it a legal obligation.
The biggest question then, as many have observed, is how to make it work.