One month ago, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared. The families of the Flight 370 passengers waited anxiously for weeks as extensive investigations were conducted, hoping that their loved ones could be found. However, on March 24th officials notified the families that the plane had no survivors.
While this is devastating news for anyone, it was especially crushing for the parents of Wang Yonggang, Ding Ying, Zhang Meng, Yan Peng, and the majority of the 153 Chinese passengers who were on board. Most of these passengers were their parents’ only children.
These mothers and fathers can now be labeled as “shidu”parents: parents who have lost their only child.
Extreme grief is only the start of what shidu parents struggle with. According to social worker Ma Shijing, many shidu parents suffer from psychological and financial problems after their child’s death. In Ma’s own support group for shidu parents, up to 70% of marriages failed after the death of an only child. “The sole aim of [the parents’] life is gone and they end up falling into depression.” Ma said. One shidu mother commented that Chinese families see the child as the “most important thing.” "If the child is gone, the whole family breaks down," she told Reuters.
An article by The Telegraph quoted shidu parents as saying that they had “lost the reason to live” and lost their “only source of happiness”. Because the Chinese government allows most families to have only one child, parents often place all of their hopes and goals on this one child and live to make them successful. “When I buried my daughter, I buried myself too,” one Shanghai mother said, “I have no desires now, no dreams, no thoughts.“
The plight of shidu parents is as much a product of the One-Child Policy as forced abortion, sterilization, and infant abandonment are. Today there are around one million shidu families in China. Every year 76,000 more families join this population. The Chinese government cannot control whether an only child lives or dies, but there would surely be less shidu parents if they allowed couples to have more children. One angry shidu mother complained that she was “deprived of the right to bear children.” and said that she “really hate[s]” the government for it.
In China, children are expected to care for their parents for life. Placing a parent in a nursing home or hiring a caregiver is not as common as it is in the U.S. This means that when an only child dies parents not only lose their precious offspring, but also lose their support and security for their elderly years.
To remedy this, the Chinese government provides a monthly stipend to these couples. In late 2013, the Ministry of Health and Family Planning significantly increased this monthly compensation. Urban shidu couples now receive 340 yuan ($56) per month, and rural shidu couples receive 170 yuan ($28) per month.
On March 28th, China announced its first government sponsored fund for aiding shidu parents. State media Xinhua reported that, according to fund director Han Xuechen, the fund will offer “life assistance and mental consolation to shidu elderly with financial difficulties by giving aid directly or through communities and nursing homes”. So far the fund has raised over 10 million yuan ($1.61 million) in donations. Officials are now piloting the fund in Beijing and in part of Sichuan province and will expand to other regions if it succeeds.
China’s population is rapidly ageing, with more than 200 million members of the population over the age of 60. According to Dou Yupei, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, this group could expand to 300 million in the next 10 years. Dou says many of these elderly people will be shidu parents.
Although the living situation is improving for many shidu families, government assistance does not extinguish the pain of families like those of the Flight 370 passengers. Losing your only child, your hope for a successful future, and your support system for old age all at the same time is an unthinkable tragedy. The new government fund is a step towards making life easier for shidu parents, but if China had not imposed such strict family planning policies, perhaps there wouldn’t be so many shidu families in the first place.
by Emilie Hodge, All Girls Allowed
All Girls Allowed (http://www.allgirlsallowed.org) was founded in 2010 with a mission to display the love of Jesus by restoring life, value and dignity to girls and mothers in China and revealing the injustice of the One-Child Policy. “In Jesus’ Name, Simply Love Her.”