(Cartoon by China Daily)
China's population has been rapidly aging, and the parents of the first generation "only child in the family" are getting old. But many an only child is finding it difficult to take care of their parents, especially those who migrate from villages to cities and towns in search of better livelihoods and higher studies.
In 2016, the overall migrant population in China was 245 million, and about 65 percent of the migrants worked and lived or studied in places far away from their hometown. Among the 16-to 59-year-old migrants, those born between 1980 and 1989 increased from close to 50 percent in 2011 to 56.5 percent in 2016. And many of the post-1980 only child generation study, work or live in places far away from their hometown and parents. So when their parents fall sick, they find it difficult to leave their work or studies to rush back home to take care of them.
Some provinces have announced nursing leave for the only child so that they can rush back to their hometown to take care of their parents during medical or other emergencies. In fact, by the end of last year, eight provincial-level regions including Henan, Heilongjiang and Chongqing had granted the only child special leave so they could take care of their parents during emergencies. For instance, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region's regulation, which took effect on Sept 1 last year, stipulates that employers should give their only-child employees up to 15 days of "nursing leave" if either of their parents (aged 60 or above) is hospitalized. Also, the employers have been instructed to not deduct the salaries of the employees who avail of such a leave.
Granting "nursing leave" to the only child to take care of their parents is vital to social development, as it improves parent-child relations.
But instead of applying only to several provinces and regions, nursing leave for the only child should be promoted nationwide. Nursing leave for the only child will not only help solve many of the eldercare support problems, but also promote the traditional Chinese spirit of filial piety.
Since the problems many senior citizens face today are the result of the strict family planning policy, there should be national institutional arrangements for nursing leave so as to allow such families to enjoy their rights and interests.
However, to grant nursing leave to the only child and build a unified eldercare support pattern nationwide, administrations require legislative guarantee. For instance, the authorities should incorporate nursing leave for the only child in the Labor Law, in order to make sure it becomes a part of social welfare and citizens' rights.
The legislation for nursing leave is still confined to the provincial level, and applies to the only child that works or lives in the same province. It is difficult for the only child who works and lives in another province to avail of the nursing leave. But the major trend of population migration in China is trans-provincial. Apparently only when the nursing leave for the only child is regarded as a new citizens' right at the State level can it be extended nationwide.
In addition, families with two or more children should also be included in the nursing leave arrangement, so that social fairness and justice is extended to all.
The author, Mu Guangzong, is a professor at the Institute of Population Research, Peking University.