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Chinese farmers turn to old age pension for financial support during golden years

From : Xinhua

JINAN, Dec. 21, 2010 -- A rural endowment insurance scheme, which is being operated on trial basis in part of the country's rural area, may bring an end to the tradition of rural seniors who depend on their children for financial support.

Under the insurance scheme introduced in September last year, farmers across the country, who aged 60 years or older, each can receive a pension of 55 yuan (8.3 U.S. dollars) paid by the government per month.

"I never dreamed I would receive a pension like urban residents do," said Liu Fengyan from Nanlin Village, Pingyi County, in east China's Shandong Province.

"My wife and I receive 110 yuan in total each month and that is enough to subsidize our daily expenses," Liu told reporters.

Liu, together with hundreds of thousands of other elderly rural Chinese across China, is one of the first to benefit from the insurance scheme.

The Chinese government has vowed to expand the scheme 10 percent per year and cover the whole country by the year 2020.

Those under the age of 60 will have to pay 100 to 800 yuan per year into a fund so they can draw the pension once they hit 60 years of age.

"Farmers are enthusiastic about the program, and nearly 90 percent of farmers in the pilot areas in Shandong have joined the scheme," said Liu Qianjin, deputy director of the Rural Social Insurance Department of the Shandong Provincial Human Resources and Social Security Bureau.

Previous pension programs that were not widely accepted because their funding came from the farmers themselves. The new pension is different - it is government funded.

The value of the pension differs across China, depending on the financial status of the relevant local government.

"My husband's mother can get 260 yuan pension each month. She was never covered by social insurance before," said Wang Huailan, 58, from Nancai Village, Shunyi District, Beijing.

Wang herself is able to receive 347 yuan per month from the urban-rural residents' pension insurance program.

In China's most impoverished province, Guizhou, 27 counties, or 30 percent of all counties, are covered by the pension scheme which benefits more than 1.91 million low-income farmers.

By the end of 2010, the rural pension scheme will reach 23 percent of all Chinese counties, Minister of Human Resources and Social Security Yin Weimin said in a recent statement.

China's elderly population is growing quickly, posing a new challenge for the government.

The number of elderly people aged 60 years or over in China in 2009 grew by 7.25 million to more than 167 million, a report by the Office of the China National Committee on Ageing said.

China has a population of 1.3 billion, with 56 percent of its citizens living in rural areas not covered by social security programs.

The rural pension scheme -- endorsed by the State Council, China's cabinet -- will ensure the basic living standards of elderly Chinese in rural areas and help narrow the standard-of-living gap between urban and rural areas.

Although it is a small sum of money, it is the start of a new era in China, Premier Wen Jiabao said in an interview with Xinhua at the end of 2009.