BEIJING — Visit your parents. That's an order.

So says China, whose national legislature on Friday amended its law on the elderly to require that adult children visit their aged parents "often" – or risk being sued by them.

The amendment does not specify how frequently such visits should occur.

State media say the new clause will allow elderly parents who feel neglected by their children to take them to court. The move comes as reports abound of elderly parents being abandoned or ignored by their children.

A rapidly developing China is facing increasing difficulty in caring for its aging population. Three decades of market reforms have accelerated the breakup of the traditional extended family in China, and there are few affordable alternatives, such as retirement or care homes, for the elderly or others unable to live on their own.

Earlier this month, state media reported that a grandmother in her 90s in the prosperous eastern province of Jiangsu had been forced by her son to live in a pig pen for two years. News outlets frequently carry stories about other parents being abused or neglected, or of children seeking control of their elderly parents' assets without their knowledge.

The expansion of China's elderly population is being fueled both by an increase in life expectancy – from 41 to 73 over five decades – and by family planning policies that limit most families to a single child. Rapid aging poses serious threats to the country's social and economic stability, as the burden of supporting the growing number of elderly passes to a proportionately shrinking working population and the social safety net remains weak.

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  • Xi Jinping

    The new party leader is seen as a pro-market reformer and a staunch believer in party power. The son of a veteran revolutionary, Xi spent much of his career in economically vibrant provinces. Little known abroad, Xi took a side trip during a key visit to the U.S. this year to meet privately with the Iowans who had hosted him on a 1985 study tour when he was a mid-level provincial official in charge of the pork industry. <em>Caption: New Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping speaks during a press event to introduce the newly-elected members of the Politburo Standing Committee at Beijing's Great Hall of the People Thursday Nov. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)</em>

  • Li Keqiang

    Expected to be the next premier, Li, 57, is a protege of outgoing President Hu Jintao. The two worked together in the Communist Youth League in the 1980s. Hu initially wanted Li to succeed him as party chief before accepting Xi. Li ran two important industrial provinces, and as vice-premier his portfolio includes health reforms, energy and food safety. Still, questions of inexperience on economy have dogged him as he prepares to take the post of premier, the top economy job in the country. <em>Caption: Li Keqiang, one of the seven newly elected member of the Politburo Standing Committee, waves during a press event at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Thursday Nov. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)</em>

  • Zhang Dejiang

    A vice premier who was called on to run the mega-city of Chongqing after the ouster of the ambitious but tainted Bo Xilai, Zhang is seen as a capable, low-key administrator. The son of a former army general, Zhang, 66, ran two economic powerhouse provinces and oversaw safety issues in recent years as a vice-premier. A Korean speaker, Zhang studied economics at North Korea's Kim Il Sung University and is an ally of party elder Jiang Zemin. <em>Caption: Zhang Dejiang, one of the seven newly elected members of the Politburo Standing Committee, attends a press event at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Thursday Nov. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)</em>

  • Yu Zhengsheng

    Yu, 67, is a member of the red elite, but with a problematic family history. His brother, an official in the secret police, defected to the U.S. in the mid-1980s. Yu's pedigree helped salvage his career. His father was the ex-husband of a woman who later married Mao Zedong. A missile engineer by training, Yu has run the financial hub of Shanghai since 2007. His family connections to patriarch Deng Xiaoping kept his name in the running for promotion to the top leadership. <em>Caption: Yu Zhengsheng, one of the seven newly elected members of the Politburo Standing Committee, attends a press event at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Thursday Nov. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)</em>

  • Liu Yunshan

    As head of the party's Propaganda Department for the past 10 years, Liu has tightened controls over domestic media even as he encouraged big state media to expand overseas to purvey the government's line. Liu, 65, rose through the ranks in Inner Mongolia. He has a foot in each of two political camps. He started his career in the Youth League, outgoing President Hu Jintao's power base, but in the past decade also served a conservative ideology czar who was a staunch supporter of party elder Jiang. <em>Caption: Liu Yunshan, one of the seven newly elected members of the Politburo Standing Committee, attends a press event at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Thursday Nov. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)</em>

  • Wang Qishan

    A technocrat with deep experience in finance and trade issues, Wang, 64, is a vice premier and a top troubleshooter. Over his career, Wang cleaned up collapsed investment firms in southern China, calmed Beijing amid the SARS pneumonia scare and, more recently, fended off U.S. pressure over China's currency policies. Son-in-law of a now-deceased conservative state planner, Wang would bring added experience on economic policy. <em>Caption: Wang Qishan, one of the seven newly elected members of the Politburo Standing Committee, attends a press event at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Thursday Nov. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)</em>

  • Zhang Gaoli

    A low-key technocrat who is said to adhere to the motto "Do more, speak less," Zhang, 66, has presided over the development boom in Tianjin and less successful efforts to turn the northern port city into a financial hub. Trained as an economist, Zhang rose through state oil-and-gas companies in the south before entering government service. He has served in a string of prosperous cities and provinces and is a protege of party elder Jiang. <em>Caption: Zhang Gaoli, one of the seven newly elected members of the Politburo Standing Committee, attends a press event at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Thursday Nov. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)</em>