China, a vast country with 1.38 billion people, has 44,590,560 widows! That’s almost the population of Argentina!
It’s second only to India in its numbers of widows, but very little research has been done so there’s little awareness of the real condition of these women.
We tend to think of Chinese and Asian cultures as honouring their elderly and ensuring that they are cared for. But times have changed and cultural values have changed along with them. It’s not uncommon for older people, living with their adult son, to be so neglected or treated so cruelly that they end up committing suicide. This holds true for elderly men as well as for women, and shockingly seems to be what their son and daughter-in-law actually want.
HOW HAS THIS HAPPENED?
It’s understood that this has been one of the unfortunate byproducts of China’s One Child Policy. It’s also true that the economy has prompted millions of younger people to migrate to the cities looking for work, abandoning the elderly back in the ancestral village where they are too old and weak to farm and so have no means of support.
How can this radical change have happened within one generation?
Typically, one couple would have many children, and each of their children would have many children. When the original couple grew old and needed care, their needs were spread among many children and grandchildren, so that no one felt burdened.
Because of the One-Child Policy, many families now find themselves in the inverse position of one couple supporting four parents and eight grandparents. That couple also needs to support themselves and their children. Thus, many working age couples find themselves stretched beyond capacity. Many of them simply do not have the resources of time and money to care for so many aging parents/ grandparents.1
Medical bills in particular can bring a family to the breaking point, if healthcare for the dying father has eaten up all the son’s savings and assets. That’s when the burden of a widowed mother becomes too much.
IS THERE HOPE?
Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers seems to be one of the very few who is publicizing the plight of these destitute women, and is working to make their life a bit more bearable through the “Save a Widow Campaign”. There’s more on this organization in the section on Widows’ Champions.
1 Women's Rights Without Frontiers Sep 24, 2018