March 19, 2012

MALAWI: When Aging Is A Crime in Malawi

BLANTYRE, Malawi / The Times Group / Blogs / Opinion / March 19, 2012

By George Chiusiwa

A united, tolerant and progressive nation with a populace that has a strong moral and ethical fibre can help ensure a society that cares for the social wellbeing of all its members including the elderly.
In line with the consensus made at the First World Assembly on Ageing in 1982 in Vienna, Austria, the elderly are persons aged 60 years and above. Since the adoption of the International Plan of Action on Ageing at this assembly issues on ageing have evolved and gained currency globally.
It is widely agreed that the elderly have made significant contributions to our societies. Therefore, in recognition of their past, present and future roles at all levels in society, their social well being must be ensured. From this viewpoint the status and position of the elderly as important members of the family, society and nation has to be duly recognised. Essentially, older persons must be viewed as rights holders who will often require support to claim their rights.
In the world today there is a rapidly ageing population and this presents a significant and pressing challenge to ensure the enjoyment of human rights of older persons. This trend has not spared Malawi as the 2008 Population and Housing Census showed that out of the 13.1 million people counted, 530,996 were older persons; representing 4 percent. Thus Malawi, too, has a daunting task to take care of the welfare and rights of the aged.
Lately, Malawi has seen a growing interest in the rights of special or minority groups such as persons with disabilities and homosexuals. In Malawi, old people are generally perceived in a positive way. This notwithstanding, the human rights and welfare of the elderly is a topic that is somewhat neglected and the level of awareness of the plight of the elderly is relatively low. Their plight within the social fabric manifests in exclusion, marginalisation, stigmatisation and abuse.
The most vulnerable amongst the elderly are the poor and the disadvantaged ones living in rural Malawi who are deemed as silent recipients of charity by public policy. It is worth noting that there have been commendable steps in a bid to alleviate old people's socio-economic hardship in the country. The establishment of the Ministry responsible for Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly in 1998 and the state President's Bingu Silvergrey Foundation in 2007 and the government's formulation of the social protection policy can be viewed as a milestone. However, Malawi does not have a sound and comprehensive social protection programme tailored for the old folk. The rural old people hardly benefit from such programmes as Malawi Rural Development Fund (MARDEF) and the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP), hence further debilitating their already frail socio-economic security.
There is therefore urgent need to explore the productive potential of the elderly as some are capable of investing their energies in informal economic activities thereby promoting self reliance. Otherwise these people will continue being at the receiving end of charity.
Such measures as social pension programmes and elderly cash transfers would perform wonders to our old men and women who ought to be culturally valued as repositories of wisdom. In absence of these deliberate policy measures other attempts aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals including that to reduce poverty by half by 2015 can be defeated.
In the health sector, the right-to-health approach is indispensable for the designing, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of health related policies and programmes to enable older persons enjoy this right. Older people religiously value traditional technical knowledge or indigenous science. In contemporary Malawi and much of Africa it is therefore a common phenomenon that older poor people consult traditional healers as their first form of medical care since modern medicine is too expensive for them. Sometimes the elderly are discriminated against at the medical institutions as they are treated with scorn and disdain ostensibly for wasting medicine meant for younger people. This seriously begs for legislation for government to recognise such traditional medicine to ensure that it works hand in hand with modern medicine.
Malawi's HIV/AIDS mainstreaming has arguably not paid due attention to the relationship between HIV and ageing. The focal target age group has been 15-49 because people of this age bracket are believed to be sexually active. As a result of this programming approach older persons are often excluded from HIV/AIDS information and prevention. However, the fact is that both old men and women are and can still be sexually active. The plight of the elderly in Malawi is further compounded by the fact that they have relatively received due attention from the criminal justice system. Witchcraft accusations are rife in Malawi and the victims have often been older people with elderly women most frequently accused of practicing witchcraft.
It is imperative therefore that Malawi revise the care, protection and support of the elderly. Proper legislation, elderly tailored social policies and rethinking our social perceptions towards the older people are core to recognising their full potential and contributions to society.
Source: Daily Times, Blantyre
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.