Only children in Henan will soon be eligible for a minimum of 20 days of paid leave to care for their hospitalized parents.
The government of Henan — home to some 15 million elderly people, defined as those aged 60 or over — announced the new policy on Friday, saying it will help “protect local elders’ rights.” Since 1998, elderly people have accounted for over 10 percent of the central Chinese province’s population, and that proportion has increased steadily over the past two decades. By 2020, Henan will have an estimated 17.6 million elderly people, or 17 percent of its total population, according to the announcement.
While the aging population problem is especially concerning in Henan, other provinces, too, are reporting the same trend. The State Council, China’s cabinet, estimated in March 2017 that the country would have 255 million people aged 60 or above by 2020, nearly half of whom will be living apart from their children as “empty-nest elders.” In April 2018, Zhang Zhouping — a delegate of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a political advisory body — said that one-child families account for one-third of all those in China.
Scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2019, the new policy will provide government subsidies to people aged 80 or above, as well as free annual health checks and more state-run nursing homes. But its most eye-catching provision is the unrestricted paid leave for people with hospitalized parents, previously limited to 20 days. Notably, only families that have been “one-child certified” by a local family planning authority will be eligible.
Compared with other countries, workers in China get very little paid annual leave, especially during their first few years in the workforce. Employees of state-owned enterprises, for example, typically don’t get any paid leave during their first year, and only five days per year for 10 years after that.
In May 2016, Henan became the first province in China to institute paid leave for the purpose of elderly care. Though viewed as a radical move at the time, other provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions gradually followed suit, granting paid leave for workers to take care of their ailing parents for 10 to 20 days a year.
However, it is unclear how many people will benefit from the well-meaning policy, which does not specify punishments for businesses that fail to comply, does not specify whether workers whose parents live outside of Henan are eligible, and does not apply in cases where the parents are sick but remain at home. A search for the policy on microblogging platform Weibo on Monday returned media reports and cynical netizen comments alluding to the fact that someone with a hospitalized parent would be unlikely to test their employer’s patience by applying for long-term paid leave.
“To see [this policy] put into practice will be harder than touching the sky,” read one upvoted comment.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Two elderly people are pushed around in wheelchairs on a cold day in Beijing, Dec. 29, 2012. Du Jia/VCG)