Illustration of an old man and a woman holding money and their son

Abu Taher says his son has always been a "good kid".

For years, Mr. Taher ran a small clothing store in Chittagong, Bangladesh. He retired with little money and became dependent on his son and daughter for financial support.

"My wife and I had to face many difficulties to raise our son," said Mr. Taher. "But after getting married, he changed and stopped taking care of his parents."

Despite the help of his daughter, Mr. Taher had difficulties. Aged 75, he has no choice but to file a lawsuit against his son, Mohammad Shahjahan, for alimony purposes.

"It was a difficult decision for me, everyone told me to file a case for a long time, but I did not want to." I filed the case while it was not there. was no other way. "

His son rejects the allegations. The two men have been separated for decades, but Shahjahan, who works as a banker, claims to have supported his parents. He says his father took the case "to dishonor him".

Parent v child

This is the kind of family breakdown that can happen anywhere, but the remedy sought by Mr. Taher is not universal.

He has taken action under the Bangladesh Parental Care Act, a law that provides remedies for parents against their children who do not support them.

Many US states and parts of Europe also have so-called subsidiary support laws, but they are rarely enforced.

But in Asia, they are sometimes used.

Dr. Ray Serrano, a health services researcher at Emory University, has analyzed the different laws in Asiawho are rooted in the concept of filial piety, or respect for the elderly.

He describes the laws as an "extension of alimony or child support" in societies that attach importance to family and community values.

Duty to support

Singapore is an example.

Elderly parents who can not support themselves can apply for financial assistance for their children under the Parental Maintenance Act of the country.

They can file applications where the children are able to support them, but they do not.

A court may award a monthly allowance or a lump sum. Alimony can also be granted by conciliation.

Few cases come to court because many are settled by conciliation. In 2017, only 20 cases before the Tribunal for Maintenance (TMP) resulted in a sentence of maintenance.

Cultural Mores

China, India and Bangladesh have similar systems, which have developed in recent years partly to meet the demand of an aging population. Dr. Serrano says that it is the idea of ​​"reciprocity".

"If you are a child (adult) and do not live with your parents, you should at least take care of it."

Children face fines and even jail time in certain circumstances.

Take a recent case in China's Sichuan Province. Five adults were reportedly sentenced to imprisonment of up to two years imprisonment for abandoning their elderly father, after a court found that they were not guilty. had not fulfilled their filial obligations.

The role of the state

The laws generally focus on the poverty of the elderly and not on long-term care.

But as societies age, they may offer a tool to relieve the state of pressure.

The World Health Organization says that by 2020, the the number of people aged 60 and over will be greater than the number of children under five.

And by 2050, about 80% of seniors will live in low- and middle-income countries.

According to Dr. Serrano, systems like the one set up in Singapore can be a "stick to encourage people" to take care of their aging parents.

Nevertheless, it is a policy change that would encounter resistance in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. James Sabin, an academic at Harvard, says it's unlikely that laws like these will be successful in the United States.

The professor heads the Department of Population Medicine and Psychiatry and says that the United States stands at the "other extreme" of a more communal country, such as Singapore.

"As a society, it is relatively unlikely that we are trampling the rights of individuals," he said.

It also highlights the potential dangers in cases where a child says that a parent does not deserve care.

"Some people will say," my parents have neglected me, my parents have mistreated "… the opposite of a Confucian reverence for the older generation," says Professor Sabin .

"I do not think we wanted to depend on the court for these socio-psychological judgments."

But for Mr. Taher, the system in Bangladesh offers welcome help.

He has an agreement with his son out of court. Mr. Shahjahan agreed to pay his father $ 10,000 ($ 119) each month.

Until now, he has honored the agreement and Mr. Taher said that if his son paid, he would withdraw the case from the local court of Chittagong.

Illustrations by Katie Horwich.