Littlejohn to UN: – “It is Better to Die…” Widows at Risk in China

Reggie Littlejohn (in orange) with her co-presenters and several attendees after the March 11 event.  Her co-presenters were Jing Zhang (second row, fourth from the left), President of Women’s Rights in China; Lois Herman, Coordinator of the Women’s United Nations Reporting Network, who moderated; and Ms. Margaret Owen, Founder and CEO of Widows for Peace Through Democracy, to Reggie’s right in the photo.  Credit:  Women’s Rights Without Frontiers.

Women’s Rights Without Frontiers  collaborated with the Women’s United Nations Reporting Network to sponsor an event at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.  The event was standing room only, a poweful success.   Here is an excerpt of Reggie’s remarks:

“Zhen Ting’s” husband passed away with necrosis of the bone five years ago.  She still remembers his last months, in and out of the hospital. The doctor finally told Zhen Ting to take her husband home and buy him his favorite foods. They had run out of money for hospitalization, and there was nothing more that could be done to save him. 

Zhen Ting’s daughter-in-law became very angry at the cost of her father-in-law’s illness.  The daughter-in-law yelled at this helpless, elderly couple. She told the neighbors, “It is better to die than live in pain and make the whole family suffer, spending all our savings so that we will become homeless people.” The daughter-in-law held out the example of an elderly woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She hanged herself on a tree in the back yard, to save her family from having to pay medical expenses. 

Zhen Ting says that her son is an introverted person; he would never stand up to his wife.  She had no support, no one to turn to, when a fieldworker from Women’s Rights Without Frontiers told her about our “Save a Widow” Campaign. Zhen Ting is deeply grateful for the monthly visit and monetary support she is now receiving.  She says that even though her own son has abandoned her, kind strangers from far away are willing to help her.  She told our fieldworker, “God is showing mercy to me and sent me an angel.”  

“Zhen Ting” (name changed to protect her privacy), a widow given dignity, hope and practical help through our “Save a Widow” Campaign.  Credit:  Women’s Rights Without Frontiers.

China’s current elderly population is 241 million, 17.3 % of the nation’s total population, and rising.  China’s elderly population is set to peak at nearly half a billion, or 35% of the total population, in 2050.  

Sadly, senior suicide is on the rise.  According to a report in the China Daily — a Chinese government–affiliated English language news outlet — the suicide rate of rural Chinese elderly has increased 500% in the past two decades, from 100 to 500 per 100,000.  According to sociologist Liu Yanwu, who studied the issue for six years, “. . . I was more shocked by the lack of concern in villages where the elderly commit suicide . . . It seems that death is nothing to fear, and suicide is a normal, even a happy end.”

In the past, elders were venerated and cared for by their children and grandchildren. “Filial piety was valued in old China, but many elderly people in rural areas can no longer depend on their children as a result of the great economic and social changes over the past three decades,” continues Liu, “and the pension system fails to compensate . . . In China, farmers are vulnerable, and old farmers are the most vulnerable.”

Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, stated, “the studies show that the elderly, especially elderly widows who traditionally have depended on their children to support them in old age, are becoming destitute and so desperate that they are committing suicide.  They are the invisible victims of the demographic disaster caused by the One Child Policy and are in urgent need of help.  

Women’s Rights Without Frontiers is committed to helping Chinese women at every stage of their lives.  Our “Save a Girl” Campaign helps baby girls to be born, instead of being selectively aborted or abandoned because they are girls.  Likewise, we help their mothers defend themselves against the pressure to abort or abandon their baby girls.   And now through our “Save a Widow” Campaign, we are extending help to elderly widows, to ease their suffering and give them dignity and new hope in the twilight season of their lives.  

These efforts are not enough to help all the baby girls or all the abandoned widows in China. We call upon the Chinese government to step up its efforts to help those most vulnerable. 

Reggie and her husband, Robert in front of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women banner.  Credit:  Women’s Rights Without Frontiers

Related Links

Can China Afford Rapid Aging?

Suicide Among Elderly Increases  

China’s Elderly Population to Peak at Half a Billion in 2050

China’s Elderly Population Continues to Rise, With 241 Million Now Over 60 

Save a Widow Campaign

Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2017 Report, “Population Control” section at p. 158

Ageing China:  Changes and Challenges

China:  The Disturbing Trend of Elderly Suicide

Suicide Among the Elderly in Mainland China

How China’s Rural Elderly Are Being Left Behind and Taking Their Lives, updated 

Why are so many elderly Asians killing themselves

China’s Rural Poor Bear the Brunt of the Nation’s Aging Crisis

Relying on Whom?  Poverty and Consumption Financing of China’s Elderly

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.