Caring for aged

The Centre is taking a long-overdue step of formulating a new policy to replace the existing National Policy on Older Persons, 1999. Much has changed in India since the 1999 policy was formulated.

The demographic profile has changed as has the socio-economic pattern. With the lifespan of people increasing, the number of aged in the country is growing too. Elderly persons are expected to comprise 12.4 per cent of the country’s population by 2026.

It is therefore imperative that the country formulates a new policy that will anticipate problems our senior citizens will face in the years to come. Studies indicate that 80 per cent of our senior citizens live in rural India, 30 per cent are below the poverty line and 25 per cent suffer from depression. The new policy must not ignore their special needs.

Formulating a new policy is not enough; it will have to be implemented. The fate of the 1999 policy is instructive. A landmark policy, it envisaged state support for the elderly to ensure their financial and food security and provided for their healthcare, shelter, and protection against abuse and exploitation.

The policy was followed up with legislation in 2007 that contained penal provisions for abandonment of the elderly and empowered the elderly on property issues. However, both, the policy and the legislation, gathered dust. Hence, a new policy, while needed, will seem a hollow gesture to the elderly if, like its predecessor, it remains unimplemented. The government and activists must create public awareness on the rights of the aged.

Indians like to think of themselves as a family-oriented, elderly-respecting society. With the old joint family system breaking down and people having little time for their aged kin, the elderly are not just neglected but they are being exploited and abused.

To a growing number of Indians, the aged are a burden they want to get rid of.  They drive their aged parents out of their houses after forcing them to hand over their property. The new policy must put in place strong measures to protect the aged from greedy relatives. Simultaneously, it must provide for more state-run homes where the aged can live with dignity.  A problem that almost every aged person faces is poor health.

Given the high cost of decent healthcare, the elderly are unable to afford it. Health insurance companies expect them to pay a high premium and also do not cover most illnesses. A less callous approach to the elderly is needed. The government must step in to provide affordable and decent healthcare to the aged.

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