July 16, 2011

MALAYSIA: Seniors can still be useful

PENANG, Malaysia / The Star / Focus / July 15, 2011

Rueben Dudley, Petaling Jaya

THE 60s song by English rock band The Beatles, asks: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” Hopefully, the answer is “yes”.

The global consensus is that senior citizens should be needed and provided for in the 21st century, not simply because they are the dependent elderly or the doting grandparent but because they are, today, better educated, live longer and stay healthy longer and can – and do – make greater contributions to society than ever before.

A 2007 study by Oxford University’s Institute of Aging with 21,000 respondents across all the continents in 20 countries, including Malaysia, showed that one in 10 people in their 70s still works, either self-employed or for an employer.

July 11 marked the 25th annual United Nations (UN) World Population Day in which individuals and organisations around the globe conceptualise the significance of population trends – most specifically the enormity of the world’s population expected to hit seven billion by the end of 2011.

Award-winning photograph of elderly Kelabit woman from Bario, Sarawak ©  by Wan Ahmed Lotfi

The fastest growing population segment today is the 60 years and over age-cohort and by 2050, for the first time in history, the world will contain more people over 60 than under 15, with developing countries facing the greatest increase in the number of older persons.

Global ageing has been identified by the UN as one of the most important socio-economic issues of the century. It is recognised that the benefits and value of meeting the specific needs of the 60+ age-group and the contribution they can make to societies and nations should be integrated into all development and planning strategies.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil recently said that life expectancy in Malaysia is expected to rise from 72.6 years in 2010 to 74.2 by 2020 for men and from 77.5 years to 79.1 years for women.

Consequently, the number of senior citizens in Malaysia, currently numbering 2.1 million or 7.3% of the total population, according to UN projections, is expected to rise to 15% by 2030.

Shahrizat further elaborated that “as early preparation in facing the situation of an ageing population, the ministry will submit to the Cabinet, a proposal paper on the issue.

“We need to have a strategic plan on how to make use of senior citizens as a useful resource for the country’s development. They must be seen as a resource and not as a burden”.

The Senior Citizen’s Policy and Plan of Action, approved earlier this year, and other initiatives being contemplated by the Government, including a more comprehensive social security programme and an optimum number of geriatricians and day-care facilities for the elderly, are certainly helpful and necessary steps in catering for our senior citizens.

Let us equally be aware that contrary to the commonly held belief that older people are draining state – and possibly family – resources, they are in fact more independent and active in social and economic life than previously thought.

People in their 60s and 70s and even older are making a tremendous contribution to society, not only in almost all fields of employment but also by willingly carrying out several community and family tasks on a voluntary basis – they care, teach, advise, counsel, guide, help, serve, officiate and perform a host of other functions with love, dedication and satisfaction at no charge.

The older generation, in addition, provides a sense of family and community, and encourages continuity and reinforces values as they pass on history and traditions.

This also helps in enhancing the quality of human capital so vital for a nation’s development with people who are enlightened, productive and patriotic.

Unfortunately, senior citizens and their contributions to society are largely undervalued and unrecognised, even if not deliberately perhaps they are simply taken for granted.

It is necessary that governments and societies should do more to ensure that policies and attitudes meet the 21st century challenges of a growing older population and provide the opportunity that will enable our senior citizens to continue contributing, given the knowledge, abilities, experience and, indeed, wisdom they have gained over the years.

The challenge is to build a society for all in which neither older people, nor any other person, on account of age, gender, health, race or religion, feels excluded.

A country that fails to offer the means for its senior citizens to actively participate and contribute is a country missing a valuable opportunity

Copyright © 1995-2011 Star Publications (M) Bhd __________________________________________________________
Credit: Reports and photographs are property of owners of intellectual rights.
Seniors World Chronicle, a not-for-profit, serves to chronicle and widen their reach.