July 31, 2011

SRI LANKA: No Country For Old People

RATMALANA, Sri Lanka / The Sunday Leader / Review / July 31, 2011

By Sumaya Samarasinghe

Growing old and suffering the ailments which come along with age is unfortunately something no one can escape.

Tweve years ago in 1999, declared the UN Year of the Older Person, Former Ambassador Manel Abeysekera founded the NGO Forum On Ageing (NFOA) which aims at bringing together individuals and institutions to help them focus on the needs of elders who often cease to be considered as an integral part of society.

Though most often elders have key roles in the development of our nation, their contributions are quickly forgotten and some of them find themselves in extremely precarious situations, Abeysekara said.

“People who are categorised as elders have not necessarily been working. Those who have been doing so in the private sector don’t get a pension, those in the public sector will get a lump sum which is barely enough to survive for a few months or years after retirement. In a country like Sri Lanka, elders often write off their property to their children without any reservation clause if they need to use any of it, so when their relatives throw them out they find themselves homeless and penniless!”

Photos: NFOA organises activities to entertain elders

NFOA is registered with the Ministry of Social Services and acts as an advocacy group on behalf of elders. Abeysekera says however that the Forum is not receiving adequate support and no organisations consider the issue of elders as a serious community problem.

To add to the general lack of interest, the protection of the Elders Act No. 9 of 2000 which established as its main functional organ a National Council seems dormant. Eleven years after the Act was passed, essential measures to improve the situation of elders have not been taken and therefore the NFOA is offering to support the Council in implementing key and urgent actions which could improve the lifestyles of our senior citizens. Some of these measures include: the elders being able to obtain easily an elders ID card; to provide them special financial support which would include an increase in pensions, enhanced interests on deposits, insurance for elders who do not have policies (especially health) and an emergency fund for those who have been abandoned or ill treated.

Accessibility to public and private sector buildings is also a serious question as some elders with physical issues cannot attend to their matters because the buildings are not built in a proper manner to allow them access. Last but not least, free financial and legal advise should be provided by the Council to prevent elders from entering financial schemes which would render them penniless. Discounted rates for transport and drugs which would be necessary for regular usage are some of the measures which would help the elderly deal with day to day life in an easier and simpler way.

Raising the retirement age (retirement age is generally 55 to 60 years) of the elders and perhaps even using their services on a consultancy basis for a stipend would help them keep mentally and physically fit.

The World Bank Report on Addressing the Needs of an Ageing Population (Sri Lanka 2008), stated that Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million will grow to 23 million by 2030. It is fundamental that some actions be swiftly taken to improve the situation of Sri Lanka’s ageing population.

Source: The Sunday Leader
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