On December 7, Beijing Review interviewed Cao Bingliang, an official with the CNCA, on potential changes to the Elderly Law adopted in 1996 and the challenges of protecting China's elderly.
Beijing Review: Why is an Elderly Law necessary?
Cao Bingliang: In general, the elderly are a vulnerable group. China used to be a patriarchal society. Households were managed by the older generation. The eldest was the most powerful in a household. Rapid social economic development in the country has given the younger generation economic and ideological independence. When young people grow up, they will usually leave home to start their own families or move to other places. Moreover, many elderly, especially those in the countryside, are neither well educated nor well informed, so they often do not understand the law, which makes them easy targets for economic crimes like fraud.
How do you think the law should be amended?
I should say that the Elderly Law was a great success, and has played a crucial role in promoting elderly protection in China. The law has some shortcomings. In particular, the law is strong in principles but weak in implementation measures. Such a law cannot adequately protect the rights of the elderly.
Some of the clauses in the old law have become "obsolete." The current Elderly Law presumes family support as the primary model of elderly care in China, whereas rapid social development has weakened the role of the family, and some families can no longer take care of their elderly.
What progresses have been made in amending the Elderly Law?
In early 2007, the State Council decided to put amendment of the Elderly Law on its agenda. In March, the Elderly Law Amendment Leading Group was officially set up. The group consists of more than a dozen government departments, and is coordinated by the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the China National Committee on Aging. Currently, we are collecting relevant information and conducting research. A draft is due at the yearend. In 2008, we are going to submit the draft to the State Council for first deliberation. The lawmaking procedure is open and transparent. We draw upon international experience and we welcome public comments and suggestions from experts.
What are the priorities in this amendment?
In the amendment process, we will do our best to incorporate important suggestions from the public into the new law. According to our research, the elderly population is thirsty for explicit regulations on old-age security and commercial elderly care services. Rendering better legal assistance to senior citizens and defining liabilities relevant to violations of senior citizens' rights and interests are also major concerns of the public.
What are your expectations for the amendment?
The revised Elderly Law should emphasize the leading role of the government in elderly care. Moreover, we are working hard to ensure the revised law can meet the needs of the elderly in next 10 years despite great changes in society.