I found this very interesting article in the International Herald Tribune. It’s about moves afoot in India which would see children either fined or jailed for not taking care of their elderly parents. India already has a tradition of respect for the elderly. But now it is taking this to a new extreme… with legislation to boot.
You would have to have been living under a proverbial rock (or on another planet) to be unaware of how India’s economy has been powering ahead on the world stage. With that has come social change more akin to Western models, such as the nuclear family which is replacing the extended family model. The grandparent used to be the head of the family – that’s changing.
Under the proposed bill – touted by one publication as the “bill to protect aging parents from ungrateful children,”
parents would be able to demand maintenance from their offspring, and children who fail to provide for their elderly parents financially could face a month in jail, while those who abuse their parents could face longer sentences.
Said Gitanjali Prasad, author of “The Great Indian Family,” a study published last year:
“With the arrival of the Western work model, India is becoming a very achievement-driven society,” he noted. “Often people find they can’t take time off to look after their elderly parents. This mattered less before, when you had an extended family and there was always someone who could help out. That system wasn’t perfect, and there were always disagreements, but even if you didn’t love every single one of them, you would still care for them.”
Across India, children are leaving the family home to head for the cities in search of better work and moving into small urban apartments, which cannot accommodate the whole family network.”
It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out. Caring for elderly parents means having them live with you, and taking care of their needs, regardless of the children’s own needs or strains on any other relationships the children may have. And it may not be just parents. The extended family is just that. Many children are finding that financially they have neither means or the will to do this.
If this bill passes, they will face fines or jail.
If there was abuse of the elderly before, the pressure this will bring will probably cause it to skyrocket (apparently elder abuse is quite common). And building although building more retirement homes has been suggested, it’s a no-no:
The bill also proposes building more retirement homes. It is not certain how the plan would be funded, and activists point out that these homes remain anathema in India, where there are still only 3,000 of them and where most people resist the Western practice of putting parents into care.
“There is still a huge stigma with sending parents into a home. It would be practically impossible to announce that you’d done so in public,” Rath of Agewell said.”
The article made fascinating reading for a number of reasons. There are many thought-provoking questions here. From my childfree perspective, however it highlights that the expectation that having children as insurance for your old age can no longer be taken for granted. Or at the very least is under great strain. And as the article says, the bill is silent on how children, who may be struggling financially themselves are supposed to find the resources to look after their parents.
India’s growth and transformation isn’t going to slow down any time soon and it looks like the status quo is changing more quickly than some in society are ready for.
But is throwing kids in jail the way to tackle this? Taking care of elderly relations is also a key cultural aspect of many other Asian and African countries, not just India. And even some Western societies it isn’t so unheard of… there is an expectation that children will “look after you in your old age… and that’s one reason many people have them, regardless of whether the reality matches the expectation.
What would it be like to be faced with this expectation? Are you faced/have you been faced with it? Do you agree/disagree with the bill? Why is this?
International Herald Tribune, Asia Pacific