Help ever - Hurt never
Give them back what they gave yesterday:
- Secretary, Ministry of Social Services and Social
| Mrs. Manel
Consultant - Gender and Development/Former
Ambassador to Thailand, Germany, Switzerland, Austria
|* The topmost problem
in old age is isolation
* Expect dignity, care and active participation
||* A Commission for
Elders will be practical and efficient
* Care means not money but companionship
World Elders' Day falls on October 1. Have we forgotten that
today's benefits and luxuries are the results of their hard work? Are we
forgetting the blood, toil and tears shed by our forefathers to build a
better future for us?
1.In your point of view, what are the problems elders mostly face?
Economically, culturally, and socially they have their problems. At
present due to urbanization, nuclear families and migration of women,
elders are left alone sometimes with the additional task load on to
them. So at times they are exploited. The traditional ways of taking
care of parents, elders by family members are getting eroded. In early
days women of the families used to take care of their family elders
since they stayed back at home. But with the current economic pressures
women have also become income generators. As a result, the parents tends
to get isolated.
Feeling of loneliness. That is bad psychologically. Elders are also a
part of the human spectrum. So we also have human rights like children,
youth, women and family. Since the elders are close to their end of life
that unwanted feeling, feeling of having no work and they do not mean to
anybody is a very sad state I would say. Some parents have slaved to
bring their children to high positions. And at the end they are left
alone. When you say care what they need is not money. They need
2.How do you see the present situation?
I have a mixed feeling. 50% of families are duty conscious and take
care of their parents. This situation, we see irrespective of different
social strata. It all depends on one's social back ground, support from
your spouse etc as well. If the environment is not conducive the
children may find it difficult to take care of their parents, though
they are interested in. I was present when the 386 cases we received
were being produced before the Maintenance Board. Alarmingly, some
children did not even want to know that their parents are in need of
certain things! And some parents were also very adamant. At times they
were so adamant that they insisted payments from one particular child
while another was willing to pay.
Well I can't say I'm happy about the situation. They should be
reintegrated into the society. We do now have preparations for old age.
But the retirement age has been extended as I see. But personally I
believe people should not block youth from their advancement in their
service. But on the other hand people who have been in different
services must have an income generation path. We do not have insurance
schemes that would benefit the elderly. There should be specially
tailor-made schemes. In other countries retiring age is not 60 but
higher. When I was serving as Ambassador for Thailand most of the
Scandinavian Ambassadors were in their 70s'. That is their system. But
here the employment is difficult and youth should not be blocked. But on
the other hand elders must be engaged in some activity and feel occupied
as well. We have Elders' Charter and we are party to many conventions
but we need to put these laudable ideas into practice. And the
respective Authorities, line ministries find problems with inadequate
funds to cater even to the neediest.
3.What could be the cause?
We have forgotten the values and our bounden duties. As all religions
teach we need to help any one in need. And people do not know what are
their priorities. And women living longer than men, contribute much to
these problems at old age. Next, most of them do not have a proper
monthly income, such as pension or property. Certain laws deprive women
of land or property. In addition, these women feel insecure. So, even
coping with their daily requirements - i.e. nutritious food, cooking,
medicine, residence, health issues becomes difficult. They face many
mental and physical disabilities as well in old age. Inaccessibility to
information is also a problem since they won't get the details of
services provided to them. And the generation gap! So the parents should
know how to forge the parents-children link. They lack support
economically, socially and even for religious matters. Some families are
economically at a very bad shape. This is also a cause. And some do not
fully understand their commitment. We can see these during our
I don't think it is intentional. But like all other areas our country
has a good legislature. For instance, a charter is a declaration so it
does not relate as to how to deliver that right or privilege. The legal
system should support it. Some try to define growing old gracefully. I
do not believe in that. Call elders as elders and not as senior
citizens. There is no social stigma in it. It is the question of looking
at elders in a positive way. We have had very good welfare systems since
pre-independent era. And since the benefits the health sector got as a
result people are living up to their ripe old age. But statistics are
one thing. If practically no one is benefited it amounts to nothing
though how perfect we will be in our statistics.
4.How is the present different from the past?
As I said earlier, we have lost the extended family unit. So the
support network to look after the elderly is no more. As the life
expectancy is going to increase we will have a much higher percentage of
elderly population in the future. Actually our mothers and grandmothers
were working on these lines. From 1996 onwards we have security schemes
for self employed persons. So like a Government servant they can get a
pension. Farmers and fishermen were also in this category. The scheme
was for people below 59 and now we are planning a schedule for the
people above 60 too to get included into the scheme. And we have a
program for Government servants above 45 an awareness program on
retirement. So that we encourage people to have a plan after retirement
till about 70 - 75 years. But it would be best for any person to have
more relaxed time after 65.
There is a big difference. There was an extended family system in the
past which is not there
now. Caring for elders was more of a family matter. If a family is
unable to take care of the parents it was a feeling of shame. All
religions cater to that feeling. Because of the social and economic
situations that feeling has gone off. People are thriving to exist.In
that context it is not easy to expect children to care for parents.
Today's elders are mostly engaged with grandchildren and have less time
for relaxation. Of course, it is wonderful to be with the grand children
but with old age one need more time to relax. That is retirement. We
must remember that grand parents need to be reciprocally cared for.
5.Is this state of affairs unique to our country?
It is little bit common for South Asia. Comparatively we are much
better. But compared to western countries we are short of human
resources to look after them. But where the war situation has affected
it is mostly the elderly who suffer. Youths somehow escape. But elders
may have no choice. We are trying to promote a universal pension scheme
where everyone will get an equal amount. This way the rich may not come
to get that small amount and only the needy will be interested in. So
hopefully some amount will be left to provide further benefits.
Unique in the sense that we are equal in low birthrates and longer
lives to that of developed countries but in terms of means to serve the
elderly population we are poorer than them. In our case though we are
statistically same we don't have money to have the welfare facilities.
We should be able to plan to use whatever the money we are having to the
neediest and the most urgent. More appropriately. The Ministry of Social
Services is doing a great job but they lack the material as well as the
human resources. That is why I have always recommended Commissions. Some
are afraid of commissions! But we can lessen the burden on the Ministry.
They have wider responsibilities and all these areas may not receive the
proper attention. But if the Commission is set up and given the
authority it can look into the specific matters assigned to them. This
can be put in to practice like the Human Rights Commission which is very
much localized. So Elders Commissions when localised is more easily
accessible to them.
6.As you see, what is the situation in other developed and
Because one needs to spend lot of time to look after an elder, we
need more trained
human resources. In the developed countries they have it.They have
experts, doctors, trained nurses. Still we not have that facility.But we
are on the process of training volunteers to look after the elderly
people. First and foremost, we make them realize how much they can
improve their personality. But in developed countries they are more
isolated. And certain people live with their pet cats and dogs who are
well trained and quite expensive.
For example in Germany the elders get as much attention as children.
The women are mostly involved in the two areas of looking after children
and elders. Germany is famous for its Foundations. And they support
these groups. Though I have not served in Australia the services
rendered to the elders there is excellent. There are so many facilities
given to the elders. For example in our country except for Government
drug stores only very few pharmacies give medicine to elders at a lower
rate. The transportation becomes a problem due to physical problems that
come along with old age. So there are more areas need to be concerned.
Caring for an elder is not a favour done to them. It is giving them back
their service which they gave us in their younger days. We need to have
a proper planning and an allocation of funds. We have plenty of
resources and we need to implement them properly.
7. Do you think our elders' knowledge and expertise is used to the
maximum in benefiting the society?
50% yes. It depends on how smart you are. We have 10,000 elders
committees around the country. And we have a Committee here as well. I
am the chairperson. And all the other members are retired, but still
working. So they are contributing a lot for the betterment of others.
We must keep in mind that in future the work force will not have many
youths, so the elders have to step in if the work needs to be done. For
that we need a good data base.Since women live longer than men the older
generation will be more of women. In the case of women they will be left
as widows. So that has to be taken into consideration as well. Elders
will only a payment by which their needs can be met adequately. Officers
must look into ways and means to employ elders since they have the
expertise in the field they were working in.
8.What is your view on Homes for Elders?
That should be the last resort. We do not promote unless the safety
and health conditions of the parent is considered. We always encourage
the parents to be in their home environment. But if a parent is living
alone and no one is there to take care of, then we will accept it. But
some parents like to live among a peer group. But we are focusing on
building up hospices. These are not elderly homes. But keep in mind
these places cannot be used to easily get rid of elders.
Elders homes should be the last resort. But I have seen some do enjoy
the company of other elders. It all depends on the nature of the Elders
homes. They should not feel unwanted.
9.How can we make these peoples' lives happy?
Mostly elders need dignity, care, independence and active
participation in family and social lives. They love to be consulted even
on very simple things in the family. This is because they were very well
taking care of their families and children and as such it is natural
they expect the same care in return. All concerned parties need to be
involved. No one can be excluded of the family - Parents, children,
grandchildren etc. On the other hand elders must also know how best they
can be useful citizens to the society. How best they can spend their
money, how best they can get involved with the family matters and how to
use their expertise to benefit others.
There are more women elders than men. And in our economic situations
they are paid less in many jobs and in addition she is forced to give
all her money to her husband! This happens usually in the South Asia.
Woman of a family give more than she get - she is the last to eat. So
she would have lot of difficulties and disabilities during her old age.
And in the future we have to look at a work force where majority are
elders. Don't think that you are doing a favour to an elder. They should
be retrained in areas they are skilled.