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Aging Population 'a Challenge'

Apart from its skyrocketing economy, China faces another kind of growth - its aging population.

According to a leading scholar in gerontology, the study of aging, one in every five old people in the world is Chinese.

"By the middle of this century, China will reach the peak of its aging population of people aged 60 and over amounting to 434 million, 31 percent of the population," Du Peng, chief of the Institute of Gerontology with Renmin University of China, said.

He made his remark Monday in Beijing at the ongoing 8th Asia/Oceania Regional Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics, where more than 1,000 experts from home and abroad have gathered to discuss the aging problem.

"The main determining factors of the aging society in China range from a boosted average lifespan, which stands at 72 years old nationwide, because of improved life quality and healthcare to the China-unique family planning policy, " Yang Hui, a fellow researcher with Du told China Daily.

But Du said there were challenges that lay ahead because of the country's growing aging population.

China currently still lacks a comprehensive and efficient national system to support the elderly, especially those who have no income, insurance and children, mostly in countryside.

Despite existing programs funded by the government to subsidize the economically marginalized and childfree old people both in cities and vast rural areas, they can hardly make ends meet for even basic survival, given high medical costs.

Starting this March, such people in the countryside have been given monthly financial assistance of at least 73 yuan, while their urban counterparts get more.

"But simply giving money is far from enough as some are partly disabled from old age and cannot take care of themselves," Du said.

"The government can purchase services for them from companies selling household services."

Traditionally, extended family and children, especially in rural settings, have taken care of older family members.

But that tradition may not last, Du said, and legislation may be needed to guarantee the rights and benefits of old people.

(China Daily October 23, 2007)

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