THE traditional, family-based elderly care system in China is facing a great challenge, as seen in a survey released yesterday showing nearly 70 percent of the migrant workers visit home only once every six months or at longer intervals.
The survey, carried out by Daguu.com, an online job-hunting site, interviewed 9,751 migrant workers. It looked into the situation and problems of their parents, sometimes called the "left-behind elderly," who often live in remote, rural areas.
Nearly 20 percent of the respondents said they find it difficult to see their parents even once a year due to growing financial and work pressure in big cities.
High transportation cost, lack of vacation and intensity of work are all factors that keep migrant workers from going home despite their strong desire to see their parents.
The infrequency of visiting parents has resulted in less care for the elderly - nearly a third said their parents live alone and are left unattended back home. The respondents said they would send money home or ask relatives to take care of their parents. But what they worried about most is their parents' health.
Chen Dongfang, a 30-year-old migrant worker at an aluminum alloy processing plant in Shanghai, said he wished there were a small clinic close to his village in central China's Henan Province so that his mother, who has chronic bronchitis, wouldn't have to walk several kilometers to the hospital in the county.
"Every time my mother phoned and told me she was sick, the news had me on edge though I knew I could do nothing here in Shanghai," Chen said.
Chen moved to Shanghai with his wife in 2006 but his parents, both in their 60s, still work in the field while taking care of two grandsons, aged 8 and 9.
Like Chen, up to 40 percent of the respondents said they are afraid of parents getting ill with age, and they have no preparations in place if that were to suddenly happen.
"It is widely seen in rural areas that elderly people, again, become the family's primary workers in the field when the young workforce leaves home for big cities," said Lydia Wang, who conducted the survey.
According to the survey, 28 percent of the respondents' parents worked to support themselves and 35 percent are mainly supported by their children. According to China Agricultural University, as of 2008, the left-behind elderly numbered 20 million.
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