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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

To be kind

Senior citizens remain neglected and forgotten in society. It is about time that changed.

Update : 25 Sep 2022, 10:34 PM

Due to the influence of globalization, technological developments, urbanization, migration, and changing family structure, the lives of older people are becoming more vulnerable in direct and indirect ways -- which are often considered a burden to the family as well.


The recent incident of the suicide of one senior citizen, Abu Mohsin Khan, in Dhaka was alarming for many. The increasing number of old homes may also be indicative of the current situation, though debate may arise regarding old homes -- whether it is negative or positive.


Not all hazards that they face relate to financial matters; they rather go beyond and often concern mental and physical abuse, disrespect, and enforced solitude. The treatment of senior citizens is also dependent on their social class and status as well as the solvency of the family. 


The changing landscape

The average lifespan of Bangladeshi people was less than 50 years during the '70s, which has now increased to 72 years. Currently, more than 13 million senior citizens are living, which is over 8% of the country’s total population. Within the year 2050, the number will be 21.5% of the total population -- indicating one senior citizen among every five people. 


According to the United Nations Human Development Index Ranking in 2018, Bangladesh ranked 136th among 189 countries based on the number of older people. With the improvement of medical science along with the decreasing rate of child mortality, the life expectancy of people is increasing.

 

Thus, there is a larger number of older people that need to be taken care of. Besides biological changes, aging is related with other transitions in life, from retirement to appropriate housing, weakening health conditions, and often, the passing of spouses. 


Moreover, family structures are now transforming, with more nuclear families and less extended families. There is thus an increase in medical costs and pressure on social security. Moreover, the traditional norms and values are transforming along with other multi-causal factors. 


All of this means that senior members have been passing through a critical situation with psychological, physiological, and social requirements. Their vulnerability in terms of living arrangements, food consumption, possessions on wealth, participation in the decision-making of the family and overall social respect only appears to increase as they continue to age.

 

Compared to the early years, the circumstances of the senior citizens of Bangladesh are deteriorating in terms of respect and decision-making power. Currently, there are around 1.6 million senior citizens living in Dhaka city, and solitude among them is more extreme than in any other area. The number of old homes mostly reside in the capital city too. 


Officially, six old-age homes are maintained by the social welfare ministry; those are situated in Dhaka, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Barishal, Chittagong, and Bagerhat. The rest are owned and operated privately. Whether the owner is public or private, most of the old-age home conditions aren’t up to the mark or anywhere resembling the international standard. 


What the rest of the world does

Most countries preserve special laws concerning care and well-being for the aged in the community. For instance, the Philippines provides tax exemption on income, VAT exemption on purchasing medicine and medical services, 50% discount on daily life services like gas, water, etc. 


Japan is one step ahead in the caring of those in their twilight years; along with community homes, the government of Japan provides extra support to those interested to work after stipulated work and also pays an amount for day-to-day needs and medical services.


The United Kingdom, a country of 2.9 million senior citizens provides what is known as “carer’s allowance” in response to the welfare of elder citizens. Almost all the countries provide old age allowance for the financially challenged old citizen. 

 

Countries of the southeast region also have legal protection for senior citizens. India passed the “Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act-2007” and if someone violates the law, there are fines and possible imprisonment. China has the “Law for the Protection of the Rights and Interest of the Elderly-2013,” and Singapore the “Maintenance of Parents Act-1995.” 


What Bangladesh does

According to the “Parents Maintenance Act-2013’’ anyone who fails to support his parents without logical reasons will face up to $1200 fines and imprisonment in case of the unpaid fine. In addition, 10% of each child’s total income has to be given to their parents regularly, if they live separately. 


Respect and care are a matter of emotions rather than a legal issue. Thus it isn’t less painful for parents if their care is held through enforcement. 

 

Moreover, children are allowed to send parents to old homes against their wishes, and the aggrieved parents have the right to file cases against their children that decline to support them. A first-class magistrate court will settle issues related to the violation of the law and for reconciliation of any issues, local government representatives are authorized to settle the disputes.

 

Older citizens aren't a burden but rather the source of knowledge, experience, and wisdom in reconstructing the nation's progress. The responsibility goes to everyone to have patience, to value their contribution, and above all, to be human in order to ensure comfort for the elderly. 


Taskina Huq is Deputy Director, Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM). Fariya Tabassum is Research Associate, Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM).


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