The elderly deserve a firm place in society

Shihab Sarkar   | Published: October 08, 2018 22:17:13

In many countries, the increasing life expectancy is nowadays being viewed as a hurdle to their economic strides. The aged in these societies reportedly draw the ire of the younger people. All this results in a general mood of neglect formed among the mainstream population. Unlike in these highly developed countries, the elderly people in South Asia are yet to be considered a national burden. Be it in the context of family or that of society. Bangladesh is one of these countries in the ancient region of South Asia. Respecting the old and taking lessons in wisdom and time-honoured virtues from them is a vital segment of the region's tradition. In the second decade of the 21st century, the elderly in Bangladesh society are still held in high esteem. Start of the disintegration of age-old joint families notwithstanding, the 'patriarchal' and the 'matriarchal' figures still enjoy their revered positions among their descendants. The scenarios are common in both the rural and urban areas. Yet the state of the old people in general is not agreeable, and one from which the sensitive sections can take heart.

The nation's economic achievements still remain mostly elusive to the elderly. But among the inalienable rights enjoyed by the aging populations, connecting to a nation's mainstream activities stands out as a major one. Apart from their right to having access to economic benefits, the status they enjoy at national level makes them eligible to engage in the task of protecting human rights as well. In this context, the theme of this year's International Day of Older Persons, observed on October 01, can't suit the elderly better. The Day's theme of 2018 is "Celebrating Older Human Rights Champions". On being put in Bangladesh perspective, the magnificent message underlying the theme loses much of its radiance. The older people, euphemistically called senior citizens, in the country are the most disadvantaged and the worst affected in society. Apart from crushing poverty and destitution, the elderly are deprived of the rudimentary health services. This is the common scene throughout the vast rural localities. In the urban centres, except for a few in the affluent sections, they are no different from their rural fraternity.  Uncertainties of all types continue to haunt the elderly making them perennially vulnerable.  

However, efforts continue on the part of the successive governments to make lives easier for the elderly. The national budgets every year roll out ambitious state projects, in which the old people are given a lot of focuses. Those mainly comprise social opportunities and health service facilities. The elderly people's presence in society and their potential for making community-based and social contributions are kept in the national focus, at least in theory. Considerably handsome volumes of funds back these steps. Yet when it comes to ground reality in the stage of bringing the fruits to the elderly, things often are found in a disappointing state. Many in the aging population in remote villages are still unaware that the government has a formal mechanism of providing regular allowances to them. Every old person on the lists prepared by the local administration is entitled to Tk 500 a month. As part of its social safety net, the government in 2016 distributed this allowance among 3150,000 people. In 2017, it included another 150,000 people in the allowance project. A distressing fact is that a vast section of the elderly in the country's 166,814,174 people still remains out of the old age allowance programme. Providing all the older people with the state-sponsored stimulus has proved a herculean task for the government. But efforts to help the elderly lead a tolerably comfortable life are on. In line with this, 400,000 more people are set to be added to the present number of old age allowance beneficiaries in the FY 2018-`19.

In theory an ambitious project for a low-income nation like Bangladesh, the allowance scheme's full implementation seems illusory to many. There are loopholes and inherent weaknesses in the allowance distribution programme. Those include flaws and favouritism in the preparation of the lists of people eligible for the allowance. Experts have, thus, been emphasising proper targeting of the aspiring recipients since the project's launch. Policymakers at the higher level have few spaces to intervene in the irregularities preventing the rural elderly from availing their due shares of the allowance. The allowance scheme's implementation segment is supposed to be carried out by the elected people's representatives and those representing the local government bodies. It is them who ought to do away with the laidback stance impairing the programme. This state-sponsored old age allowance, undoubtedly, works as a boost to the elderly people's otherwise falling physical and mental health. Though humble and paltry in terms of monetary value, it carries a great symbolical importance. A nationwide survey is warranted, rationally at that, in order to learn about the positive impacts the allowance leaves on the minds of the elderly.

The world is witnessing a continued rise in the number of the elderly people. Thanks to its attaining the average life expectancy of 72 years in 2017, Bangladesh finds itself among the countries with an increasing trend in the number of the elderly. Despite the goal of being in the club of middle-income nations enhancing prestige, the nation can ill afford to remain oblivious to some of its unique challenges. The most prominent of them is its fast-increasing number of the older people. The aging trend of the country shows that by 2025, one in 10 persons will belong to the older segment of the population. The elderly will comprise one in 5 persons by the year of 2050.

 Given the largely uncertain global economic outlook -- and the apprehended impact on the country's socio-economic condition, work on designing a decent life for the elderly should begin without delay. Besides helping the young of the future with their experience and expertise in professional life, the elderly are gifted with the time-tested great virtue of wisdom. This is an unending process. Like the youths of the past turning wise old people today, today's newer generations, upon becoming old, will be waiting eagerly for the young to impart to them their valuable knowledge.

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