BEIJING, July 2 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese court ruled on Monday that a woman must visit her mother every two months, citing a controversial revised law on elderly care that took effect the same day.
The verdict was the first of its kind given in accordance with the law that requires adult children to regularly visit their elderly parents. It was handed down by the People's Court of Beitang District, Wuxi City in east China's Jiangsu Province.
The court ruled in favor of the 77-year-old plaintiff, surnamed Chu, who sued her daughter for neglecting her. In addition to the bimonthly visits, Chu's daughter and son-in-law were also ordered to see Chu at least three times during major traditional holidays, according to a court statement.
The defendant could be fined or detained if she fails to fulfill her obligations, said the statement.
In recent years, the court has seen an increasing number of cases in which senior citizens have sued their children over a lack of emotional support, said Zhou Qiang, the court's president.
However, their demands lacked a legal basis until mandatory requirements on visiting the elderly were added to the Law for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, Zhou said.
"With their spiritual needs neglected, many elderly people are suffering from loneliness and depression," he added.
The amended law was adopted last December by the top legislature as part of the government's efforts to deal with a quickly aging population.
It specifies that those who live separately from their elderly relatives should visit them often, requiring employers to grant leaves of absence to the relatives of senior citizens.
By the end of 2012, 194 million people in China were over age 60, an increase of 8.91 million compared with 2011, according to a report from the China Research Center on Aging.
The 60-and-over population is expected to reach 202 million this year, or 14.8 percent of the total population, while the country's working population is shrinking, said the report.
Chi Yuelan lives alone in Beijing and hopes the law will prompt her son, a frequent business traveller, to see her more often.
"From time to time, I have missed him so much that I wept," said the 72-year-old widower.
However, the regulation has been hit by an avalanche of criticism from the public, who say it lacks details on enforcement.
They have raised questions about how often children must visit their elderly parents and what penalties will be meted out for those who fail to do so.
"More quantitative measures should be added to the law to make its implementation feasible," said Zeng Ling of Qinxian Law Firm, based in Xiamen, eastern province of Fujian.
The court ruled that Chu's daughter must visit her mother every other month after taking into consideration the distance between their homes, which is 40 kilometers, according to Gao Xin, the judge who handled the case.
"There is no precedent, so it was like we were crossing the river by feeling for the stones," Gao said.
He added that he hopes the Supreme People's Court will issue a judicial interpretation of the provision as soon as possible.
Handling cases concerning the elderly's emotional needs from their offspring is more complicated than judging economic disputes between them, Yuan said, "But that should not constitute an excuse for us to turn a blind eye to the predicaments of the elderly."
Opponents have also raised concerns about the legislation of moral issues like respecting the elderly, a traditional Chinese virtue that has been challenged by the country's three decades of heady economic growth.
"Using laws to address a moral decline is a grief for our society," said Yang Chao, a resident in Nanjing, provincial capital of Jiangsu.
The legislation that makes filial piety a legal requirement chiefly aims to promote the traditional value rather than impose compulsory duties on the young, said Wang Jianwen, a law professor with the Nanjing-based Hehai University.
"The public should not solely fixate on the enforcement of the law, or our long-treasured tradition would become a joke," Wang said.
The law amendment has also been deemed unfair for those who work far away from their parents.
"It's just too expensive for me to see my parents 'regularly.' Once a year at most, I can't afford more," said Wang Xiaobin, a 36-year-old man who works at a construction site in Fujian, about 2,000 kilometers from his hometown in Sichuan.
Parents of the busy young workforce also feel caught in a dilemma.
Li Jinfeng, 75, and her husband live in Nanjing. They said they are dying to see their children often, "but we would never bring a lawsuit against them. We don't want them punished."
The mobility of the workforce is an inevitable consequence of economic development, said Yang Chao, who can only visit his parents who live in China's far west once a year.
"The government should pay that cost, rather than shift the burden to us by simply enacting a law," the Nanjing resident said.