August 22, 2010

PAKISTAN: The old, frail and forgotten

KARACHI, Pakistan / The Express Tribune / August 22, 2010

By Sehrish Wasif

ISLAMABAD: In his seven years as the in-charge of an Edhi Home, Javed Niazi has seen many painful and cruel moments. The one that stands out the most is seeing children drop-off their parents by introducing them as their neighbours or relatives.

Senior citizens abandoned by their families sit aimlessly in an Edhi Welfare Home. Photo: M. Ali

There are about 6000 people living in 13 Edhi Homes all over the country, according to Edhi Foundation’s website.

While these establishments are meant to serve as a home for the “mentally ill destitute, orphans and runaways”, the centre in sector H-8 of Islamabad is quickly becoming a haven for senior citizens who have nowhere else to go. Maqsooda Kausar is one of them.

Despite having built four houses for her children, the 55-year-old shifted to Edhi Homes some 20 days ago.

“I came here of my own will–not for the sake of taking shelter but to get a sense of belonging, and to live a content and peaceful life,” Kausar said. She felt her children did not have enough time nor much use for her.

Not all people who end up in Edhi Homes are there by choice. Most of the residents at Edhi Homes are there because they were either mentally ill, physically challenged or their families would simply not have them anymore.

The 75-year-old physically impaired Irshad Begum was brought to Edhi Homes by her brother more than a year ago. Begum, originally from Jhelum, moved in with him in Rawalpindi years ago after the death of her parents.

“[But] how long can a [physically impaired] woman hope to rely on the charity of her brother,” she said as her voice wavered.

Edhi Homes also give shelter to aimless wanderers or those who are dropped off by the police. One such man was Noor Miraj who had been rescued while strolling aimlessly on the roads of sector F-6/2. Miraj, mentally unwell, wearing an unkempt attire and showing utter disregard for his surroundings, now frequents the shade of a tree in Edhi Homes’ garden.

He doesn’t remember anything about himself.

About seven to eight per cent of Pakistan’s population consists of senior citizens, according to Akhtar Hayat who is the acting General Secretary of Senior Citizen Foundation of Pakistan.

“The concept of old-age homes is not common in Pakistan due to the society constraints, as most people feel embarrassed while leaving their parents there,” he said.

The government, he added, needs to approve the senior citizen’s bill, which has been pending for about a decade now. About 10 million people over the age of 60 will be recognised as senior citizens once the bill is passed and will be entitled to special rights and privileges.

© 2010 The Express Tribune News Network