Instead of addressing real problems, parties are competing to increase elderly allowance.
The other day I and my friend were visiting an old age home to know more about old age people. One of the older adults came to us and asked: Why do you want to study about us? We are forgotten generation. Do we even matter? The questions largely reflect how our society and culture have shaped old age narratives.
Apparently, old age population started to become a matter of concern after the Second World War. Recent World Population Prospects 2017, released by the United Nations, estimates that there are about 962 million people aged 60 or over, comprising 13 percent of global population. It is expected to be doubled by 2050. Currently, Europe has the largest number of elderly population aged 60 or over (25 percent). In Asia, it is expected to rise to 24 percent between 2017 and 2050.
The report shows unpleasant situation of developing countries. Two-thirds of world’s elderly population lives in developing countries and nearly eight in ten of world’s older population will live in the less developed countries by 2050.
Evidently, this is a matter of serious concern for both developing and developed countries. On the one hand, modern healthcare and nutrition have contributed to longer life. Poverty and deprivation, on the other hand, have made older people insecure and vulnerable. Due to lack of robust family support, growing number of elderly people have to live in precarious conditions.
In Nepal, population of 60 years and above increased from 6. 5 percent in 2001 to 8.1 percent in 2011. This is the result of increase in life expectancy and decline in total fertility rate. Increasing numbers of non-communicable diseases, discrimination and abuse, anxiety, depression, helplessness, and loneliness are major problems facing them.
When I was in my hometown last time, I found my grandfather chopping wood, while my grandmother (both in their 70s) was working in the smoky kitchen. They have been living alone since all their sons got married. I felt ashamed of myself. I recalled our visit to old age home and asked myself: Is this how we have become modernized? Or are we heading towards the wrong direction? Many elderly are facing the situation like my grandparents in rural areas.
Many things have changed in the recent times, not necessarily for good. Traditional family norms and values have eroded. Our family structure has disintegrated. Our families used to be guided and run under guidance and protection of elders. Today they are mostly ignored, even forgotten.
Instead of honoring their contribution, society perceives them as burden. We care little about our duty for filial care.
Scholars argue that value of old age is shaped by culture and religion. Some say westernization has devalued old age by fragmenting identity and commoditizing human body. We view them as dependent, infirm and feeble beings.
Give them care
Instead of addressing the root cause of the problems, political parties are competing to increase old-age allowance. Government decision to lower eligibility age from 70 to 65 is one example. The government should know that elderly are also seeking a new narrative of understanding of old age from family, society and state. An emotional and socio-psychological support from family and society are much more necessary than monetary support. Increasing old age allowance does not solve the problem, nor will old age homes.
Study shows that depression is common among residents of old age homes. Elderly prefer to live with their families. They need family care. We need to make Nepal senior citizen friendly country.
Many elderly from remote part does not have knowledge of free health care services. The distribution of the social protection schemes are patchy and weak as there is the tendency of showing fake data of dead and migrated ones in the disbursement of allowance. This encourages the rampant corruption.
The adjustment of allowance based on vulnerability and age, provision of daycare center/club and good living arrangement with family are the areas that local government should work on. Elderly care must be taken as the right of the elderly, not the byproduct of pity.
We should not forget that older adults can pass on cultural traditions and legacy to the new generations. Study shows that children grown up with elders have better intellectual and emotional growth. Paradigm shift is required in the way we view and treat the elderly.
The author is M Phil graduate in Development Studies from Kathmandu University