Helping the aged to stay away from transgressions
An 80-year-old passenger recently threw some coins at one of the engines of the plane she was boarding at Shanghai airport because she believed it would bring good luck and ensure a safe flight. A co-passenger saw her doing so and alerted the airport officials, following which the flight was delayed. Considering her advanced age and given that her action didn’t cause any serious damage, police remitted her five-day detention.
Since she didn’t intend to damage the plane or cause harm to the passengers, and her action had no serious consequences thanks to the airport staff members’ efforts, she was subjected to the Security Administrative Punishment Law, which says a punishment can be remitted if the offender is above 70 years of age.
The increasing involvement of senior citizens in law violation cases in recent years can be attributed to two factors: China’s rapidly aging population, and unbalanced regional development. The rapid rise in the number of senior citizens might have led to a proportional increase in their involvement in criminal cases. And some senior citizens’ poor economic condition may have forced them to conduct misdeeds. There are also reports that the “left behind” children are sometimes abused by the “left behind” senior citizens.
To bring some stability and comfort into the life of the elderly, the authorities will first have to provide them with better subsidies. True, the government has implemented a coordinated urban-rural social endowment insurance system, but in rural areas the pensions are far from enough for them to live a decent life. The authorities should therefore increase the subsidies and provide more old age homes and better care for senior citizens to enable them to spend the rest of their lives in peace and relative comfort.
Second, the elderly should be educated about the basic laws and cautioned that certain actions can land them in jail. For example, had the woman known the consequences of throwing coins at a plane’s engine, she certainly wouldn’t have committed the offense. So the elderly, especially those with little knowledge about modern machinery, must be made to realize such facts, because it will also prevent them from being used by others to unwittingly commit a crime.
Third, the authorities would do well to consider adult education programs as a way to promote social stability. Simple classes can enhance the pool of knowledge of the elderly in general.
Fourth, the government and society could help those elderly who want to be re-employed to find suitable jobs. In fact, the authorities are trying to develop China’s own “silver industry”, which would help fulfill the special needs of the aging population. By creating the right platforms that will allow the elderly to re-enter the labor market, the authorities will not only help them to live a better life, but also keep them updated with the changes in society.
Proper guidance and support supplemented with necessary punishment are the right way to prevent the elderly from unwittingly breaking the law. Ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius said: “Support and respect thy elders, and those in general as well.” Moreover, the logic behind the amendment to the Criminal Law, which stipulates that death penalty shall generally not be used for people who are already 75 years old at the time of trial, was a sign that the law now accords preferential treatment to the aged. And we can do that by treating the elderly with empathy and helping them lead a peaceful life.
The author is a professor of law at Wuhan-based Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.