“Strictly speaking, one cannot legislate love,” as the African American author
and performer Maya Angelou once said, “but what one can do is legislate
fairness and justice. If legislation does not prohibit our living side by side,
sooner or later your child will fall on the pavement and I’ll be the one to
pick her up.
“Or one of my children will not be able to get into the house and you’ll
have to say, ‘Stop here until your mum comes here’.” Legislation affords us the
chance to see if we might love each other.”
When Brian Lanker in his book I Dream A World (first published
in 1989) quoted Ms Angelou, among 75 black women whose aspirations,
achievements and impact on the world he would record for posterity, the
peers of this remarkable woman born in the 1920s could not be otherwise
than inspired in the struggle towards equality and just treatment against the
prejudice they faced in a racist United States. Much of the world has since
changed its attitude towards Blacks and other “minorities” –– we
The population of the elderly, slowing moving from a minority, quite
shockingly has been having its own challenges around the world. There has
been a bad case of growing ill-treatment of the aged. And legislation, as Ms
Angelou observed back in the last century, broaches that opportunity to see
if the quite senior elderly and the very young can really love each other, and if
the old can be brought back into the caring bosom of society. China is a prime
example of the effort.
After a spate of reports about grandparents and great-grandparents being
neglected, simply maltreated by their former wards, or given to the dogs
and other lowly beasts, China recently amended its Law Of Protection
Of Rights And Interests Of The Aged to make a criminal offence,
punishable by imprisonment, for the children or other seed to treat
inhumanely their old.
The abominable story is told of a centenarian in China’s eastern province of
Jiangsu whose son –– a farmer had kept his mother, of this very elite age club,
resident in a pigsty, with a 440-pound grunting sow for company. The vile and
contemptible man insisted his mum was happy and comfortable with Arnold.
Respect for the elderly is still to some degree conventional in Chinese
society, but the traditional value has come under strain, observers say, by
China’s fashionable “rush to Western modernity”. With a more or less broken
traditional family support system, suffering and indignity are a fallout for the
ageing Chinese, who were once revered unconditionally.
And so China’s amended law on the aged seeks to bring back to the elderly
some poise and status, even if it means whipping their children into submission
figuratively, or throwing them behind bars literally. And children cannot escape
their new legislated responsibility by giving up any inheritance rights. By law,
they must take care of their parents; and if the can’t physically, they must pay a
monthly allowance to their parents to ensure they are properly taken care of.
Otherwise, a disobedient child is a wanted man –– or woman. And, of
course, the new legislation allows for the elderly to sue their own seed ––
which a 77-year-old woman from the Jiangsu city of Wuxi did her daughter for
neglect. The outcome of the case was that her daughter must visit her at least
twice a month and provide financial support. Regrettably, the court did not
specify moral support.
But this has not come without its controversy. Some observers say it puts
too much pressure on those sons and daughters who move away from home
for work, study, marriage or other means. That the law pits the old norms and
values of family and society against the complexities of modern life, and begs
the question: how can you legislate love?
We may fall back of Maya Angelou’s theory that “legislation affords us the
chance to see if we might love each other”, even as we are challenged in the
familial circumstance of that possible emotional and generational tug of war.
We have not reached that stage of disorder with our senior citizens in
Barbados. God forbid we ever should! There seems to be an adequate number
of us and a sufficient and tenacious will to vent our feelings at the boors and
culprits who would make the lives of our elderly a misery. We will not allow
the detestable and swinish among us to plunge their twilight years into
An ageing society that we are, considerateness, respect and care for our
elderly must be our watchwords –– in our homes and schools, spreading
through our business places, engulfing our communities. It cannot be left to the
lawmakers, for strictly speaking, as Ms Angelou admits, we cannot legislate love.
It takes a village to raise a child, we have claimed. And it takes the very
village to secure that child’s aging parent.
Caring for and sharing with our elderly must be our voluntary responsibility,
for these seniors who have walked before us have given us much, making
possible the life we now so much enjoy. We ought not to need the law to