Advocates for the elderly coming soon to Chinese courtrooms?

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circuit court protecting elderly rights (old man v. son)

In the middle of April, 2015, the Chinese courts carried a report on the issuance of a policy document (the full text is not yet available) by the Ministry of Justice and the National Committee for the Ageing (NCA) (a joint State Council/Party organization, as the Chinese version of the NCA’s website states) on establishing a system of lawyers and legal aid for the elderly.  Issues relating to representing the elderly in China mirror those in other parts of the world.

Although the Supreme People’s Court was not one of the institutions that issued the policy document, the national court system is affected by profound changes to Chinese society, including the greying of Chinese society, its urbanization, and other factors.  These cases are considered by the courts those relating to people’s livelihood, as discussed in previous blogposts.

The issuance of this document relates to Article 55 of the 2012 Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Elderly, which calls for elderly people to obtain legal assistance if they cannot afford a lawyer needed to defend their rights. The Chinese courts are facing a major increase in cases involving the elderly, both civil and criminal, involving psychological and physical abuse, as a study done by the Suzhou Intermediate Court illustrates.  It is likely that the Ministry of Justice and NCA did a more comprehensive study on the need for advocates for the elderly before issuing this document.

The Suzhou study, summarized in Legal Daily in the fall of 2014 gives an update concerning elderly-related disputes in wealthy Suzhou, where the elderly population has reached 23%:

  • From 2011 to 2013, the Suzhou courts accepted 1,100 civil cases involving the elderly. Those increased rapidly over the 3 years in question, because in 2013 586 cases were accepted, an increase of 102.77% over the previous year. The cases related to support, divorce, inheritance, and division of property rights.
  • in 2013, there was an 83% increase in civil cases involving the right to the division of property rights arising from land acquisition, with over 80% of the property division cases arising in rural areas;
  • Over 90% of the support cases arose in rural areas;
  • In 2013, there was a 183% increase in inheritance disputes involving the elderly;
  • In over 70% of the cases involving division of property rights from land acquisitions, elderly were forced to live in bicycle sheds, garages, or other unfavorable conditions.
  • In many cases, elderly are shunted back and forth between their grown children, who were fighting over valuable property rights held by elderly parents.

The domestic violence policy document issued in March, 2015, addresses criminal law domestic violence issues against the elderly, which are also rampant, as discussed in this earlier blogpost.

The policy document calls for a one month movement in October to focus on the establishment of probono legal service centers for the elderly.  A one month movement appears inadequate for the breadth and depth of this important social problem, which reveals that Confucian values concerning support and care for the elderly have landed in the dustbin of history in too many cases.  We look forward to hearing more detailed reports from law firms and NGOs on how the rights of over a hundred million Chinese elderly (anticipated to more than double by 2050) can be better protected.

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