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Longtime women’s rights activist Reggie Littlejohn, known for opposing selective abortions in China targeting females, is speaking out for another group of women she says are among the most destitute in the nation’s aging population: Widows.

“These women are what I would call the unseen victims of the one-child policy,” Littlejohn said in an interview with Crux, adding, “people don’t realize the extent to which the one-child policy completely decimated the family structure of China.”

Littlejohn, a Catholic who founded the “Women’s Rights Without Frontiers” organization to fight forced abortion and gendercide in China, launched a new “Save a Widow” project to help abandoned elderly women make ends meet and to give them a sense of purpose.

According to statistics from the U.S. State Department, some 590 women a day kill themselves in China, and many others attempt suicide. In the countryside, three times more women kill themselves as men.

In China, senior suicide rates have risen 500 percent over the past 20 years, Littlejohn said, explaining that this spike is a direct result of the Chinese government’s one-child, and now two-child, policy.

“Something else that’s really disturbing is studies have shown that not only are seniors committing suicide, but this is becoming normalized and an almost expected or honorable way to go,” she said. “There’s almost a pressure on seniors to commit suicide.”

Most of these elderly persons live in rural areas of China, where past tradition was that a couple would have several children, and each of those children would go on to have several children, meaning that when the couple became elderly, their extended family could care for them, since the nation does not have any equivalent to the U.S. Social Security program.

What has happened now, Littlejohn said, is that since couples are having so few children, they are left to care not only for their own child but their parents and grandparents, creating serious economic strain.

“They just can’t support all those parents and grandparents,” Littlejohn said, noting that because of this and increased urbanization in China, many elderly people simply are being abandoned. Widows often have a harder time, she said, since they were raising children instead of working, while widowers are usually in a better position since they had the jobs.

“So all these elderly women are just abandoned by their families and completely destitute and really feel that they have no purpose in living,” she said.

Read more at Crux. 

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