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Population shift means more lonely old people

Elderly left on their own as families move to cities

Population shift means more lonely old people
Maria Liu and her great-grandson reporter, Guangzhou

February 16, 2012

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Maria Liu was delighted to welcome her children and grandchildren back to the rural family home for Chinese New Year. But when the celebrations ended and they headed back to their work and studies, loneliness returned for the 80-year-old. Her misery is shared in full by her daughter, Teresa. “Chinese people have the concept of raising children to bring them security in old age,” said Teresa.  “Sadly, we don’t earn enough to bring my mother to live with us in the city.” “At least she feels less lonely since she got a telephone installed, as we call her several times a week.” China has 167 million people aged over 60 and about half of them are “empty-nesters” who live on their own.  According to Liu Hong, head of civil affairs in Guangdong province, that figure is constantly rising. “There are 10.7 million people in Guangdong aged 60 or above, which is 12.6 percent of the population. By 2015 that figure will reach 11.7 million,” he said. China’s economic boom of the past 30 years has sent millions of people flocking to the cities.  For the many of them who have elderly parents, there is a constant dilemma between staying near the family home or going where the work is. “Although we were poorer in the old days, we lived together and were able to enjoy happy moments at home. Now our life has improved but I’ve had to leave my parents behind,” said Huang Haidong, a factory manager. “Some of my friends can afford to bring all their family to live with them. But their parents can’t get used to urban life and they prefer to stay in the rural areas, alone. It’s so sad.” Clearly, the Church can play a valuable role in alleviating loneliness. “The Church should promote the value and dignity of life,” said Father John Deng, who makes frequent visits to Church-run old peoples’ homes around Guangdong. “Some of the elderly feel they are a burden to the society,” he added, recalling one resident who often said “why shouldn’t I die? Why should I bring my troubles to other people?” Joseph Peng, a young Catholic in Shenzhen, had a practical suggestion: “I would urge the Church to open more homes for the aged so that elderly people of the Catholic faith can spend the sunset of their life together in God’s community," he said. “I would also like to see parish priests take the initiative and start more care groups for the elderly. We can spend the weekends visiting them and enriching their spiritual lives with organized activities.” Related reports: Chancellor’s advice may inspire more charity work Church struggles to serve growing population  
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