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Indian bid to enforce children's obligation to aging parents

Amid changing family values, a proposed law would force children to support their elderly parents.

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Tarabai Godbole vividly remembers the proud moment when she gave birth 50 years ago. But now, in her twilight years, Ms. Godbole's pride is sobered by her feelings of rejection from her own child.

Two years ago, at the age of 75 and after the death of her husband, Godbole was left by her daughter in an old age home run by the city's Radha Medical Trust. For the first two months, her daughter visited her regularly and paid for her medical expenses.

But then the visits stopped, and the trust says Godbole's daughter can't be found.

"You become a burden on your kids when you grow old," Godbole says.

As a rapidly urbanizing India sees its social landscape shift away from traditional family bonds, the country's once-revered elders are becoming increasingly marginalized. The swelling ranks of middle-class children are moving out of their parents' homes to live independently or go overseas for better employment opportunities, leaving the elderly at home.

To offer legal recourse to people like Godbole, the Indian government introduced a bill this year that would make it a legal obligation for children, heirs, or relatives to provide financial assistance to senior citizens. Such a law would take India's traditionally strong sense of filial obligation into the stricter territory of legal statute.

"India is losing its family values," says Sumangala Gokhale, president of the International Longevity Center's office in Pune. "Children move out as soon as they become financially independent."

Along with its changing social dynamics, India is also witnessing a demographic shift. While its population remains predominantly young, the office of the Registrar General of India forecasts that people over the age of 60 will make up more than 12 percent of the population by 2026 – up from nearly 7 percent in 2001.

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