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4 October, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Our Senior Citizens

Sheikh Iraj
Our Senior Citizens

Looking after our elders is one of our utmost responsibilities. How a society treats and takes care of its senior citizens says a lot about that particular society and culture. International Day of Older Persons is celebrated around the world on October 1 to promote elderly people’s right to enjoy all fundamental freedoms, as well as highlight their contributions to society. This year, the theme of the day was ‘Celebrating Older Human Rights Champions’.

Almost 700 million people are now aged above 60, and by 2050, two billion people, or over 20 percent of the world’s population, will be 60 or older, according to the United Nations. The elderly population is predicted to increase most rapidly in developing countries, like Bangladesh, which must come up with strategies and adopt policies to cope with the large number of older persons. This week, Y&I spoke with some youths, officials, experts and senior citizens about their thoughts on the elderly and their rights, facilities they are getting and future plans regarding their welfare.  

Rahat Mahfuz, 24, is a student of sociology at Dhaka University. "Since I study sociology, I have to know about every aspect of our society. In one of our courses, we learned that today, the generation gap is getting larger. Many senior citizens of our country are suffering from physical and psychological problems. Some of them are isolated from their families, or they simply do not have anyone to share their emotions or feelings with,” he said while talking to this reporter at TSC on the campus.

“I did a thesis on elderly people. The topic of my thesis was socio-psychological condition of our aged population. For the thesis, I visited some old age homes and interviewed 20 elderly persons. I spent some quality time with them, and at the same time, I got some important data for my thesis. I am glad I was brought up in a family where we were taught to respect and look after our elders. I think to ensure our senior citizens receive the respect and facilities they deserve from the society, we need to create more awareness. Youths like us and children must know and learn how to respect and help our senior citizens," Mahfuz added.

Bangladesh Association for the Aged and Institute of Geriatric Medicine (BAAIGM) is a non-government organisation that works with older people living in urban areas, offering them healthcare and rehabilitation.  

Badrul Ahsan, deputy director of BAAIGM, told Y&I: "People mainly know our institution as ‘Probin Hitoishi Sangha’. We started our work back in the 1960s. Today, there are only a few reputed old people’s homes, compared to the huge number of elderly population we have. Students from five or six schools and universities come to visit our elderly residents. University students mostly come for academic or research purpose. There are some schools that send their students to spend some time with the old people _ eat, play and chat with them. Some school children also visit us and other old homes because it's part of their school curriculum, doing social work. Now, there have been some cases where people came and took photos with our residents and then used the pictures for their own publicity. We want more young people to visit us, but they must first take permission and follow certain rules. We do not want our residents’ privacy violated or abused."     

Syeda Tasnuva, 24, is a student of United International University and a member of the Social Service Club. "We organise different quiz competitions and other programmes where we talk about different problems and practical solutions to those matters. For example, we recently arranged a programme called ‘Thoughts of Society on Old Age’. There, we addressed the issue _ why we are becoming more and more involved with our own lives and not spending enough time with our elderly people. I personally believe we need to build orphanages and old age homes in the same place. That way, orphans will get guardians who can teach them about life, while the elders will get to spend some time with young people," she said.

Syeda Samia Jahan, 23, is a Ranger with Bangladesh Girl Guides. "Ranger Guides work with the elderly in different ways. A few months ago, we went to an old people’s home where we assisted the residents with their day to day work. At the moment, some of our Rangers are working at the information desk at the Islamia Eye Hospital in Dhaka. They are helping older patients with their appointments and other information. We have plans to visit more old homes," she said.

The Rajshahi office of Bangladesh Girl Guides Association (BGGA) runs a free school where older women can study and learn sewing. Dilara Begum, a trainer of BGGA, Rajshahi division, said: "We have an education programme for elderly women. We had a computer course, but at the moment, we are not offering it anymore. Most of the women who come here to learn come from financially poor backgrounds. There were some old women who worked all day as housemaids. Later in the day, they would come to us to learn sewing. To them, the classes were an excuse to spend some quality time with their peers and relax."

Shaheen Akter, project manager of BGGA Rajshahi division, added: "Some of those elderly women have passed away. Two of them, Sajida Khakun, aged 59, and Kohinur Begum, 70, had no one to support them. They were facing emotional isolation, too. Coming to us, they could talk and take part in class games. Winning prizes made them so happy; it cannot be explained in words. We treat such elderly women as part of our family, and at the end of the day, all they want is some emotional connection, nothing more."

Humayun Kabir, 27, founding president of Rotaract Club of Daffodil International University, said: "There are 30 members in our club. We have arranged some programmes for the elderly. For example, we visited some old people’s homes and spent time with the senior citizens living there. We want to visit other old age homes from time to time. During last winter, we distributed winter clothes to some elderly people in Chapai Nawabganj. We did not do it for any publicity. We collected a list of underprivileged old people from the local government representatives and distributed the clothes to those on the list. We also organised a seminar on ‘Our Responsibilities for Our Elders’ in Dinajpur. About 1,300 students from

40 schools participated in the programme. I believe creating awareness among schoolchildren can be one of the best ways to close the generation gap and have more respect for our elderly citizens."

Rashida Irshad, a professor of sociology at Dhaka University, said: "Nowadays, we seem to have lost some of our moral values, as the level of respect among youths for our elderly people is decreasing. In the developed world, a good amount of taxpayers’ money is spent on senior citizens. Our budget for elderly people is very small. I think the time has come for us to really start thinking and taking care of our senior citizens.”

“Only a handful of public universities have sociology departments. We need good sociologists who can work with different sections of society, including working with elderly people. Now, why are we losing our values? We are losing them because we are more interested and focused on ourselves. Today, our life expectancy has increased, but what kind of facilities are we offering our elderly people? In some old age homes, senior citizens are living lives that have very little meaning. This is happening because we are not able to provide them with the respect and the facilities they deserve. We cannot change the situation in just one day, but at least we can start," the professor added.

Gazi Mohammad Nurul Kabir, director general, Department of Social Services, told Y&I: "There are six state-run old age homes in six divisions where elderly people can live for free. At those facilities, there are 300 places available, but there are only 47 elderly people living there. We want more elderly people to come and be part of our family. Senior citizens who want our services just have to make a phone call or contact us for admission. There are 85 ‘Shishu Paribar’, or shelter homes, for children, and in some of those homes, we have stated accommodating elderly people.”

“There are 1 crore 30 lakh (13 million) elderly people in our country at the moment, and we are providing old age allowance to 40 lakh (400,000) of them. In 16 districts, we have introduced a digital system through which the elderly can collect their allowances using different online payment systems. But we want to decrease their dependency on allowances. We want to encourage them to continue working in their fields, where they worked before. Maybe, we will introduce some training courses for them. We believe that will help them to be proud of themselves and encourage young people to respect them more" the DG added.

Akter Rahman, secretary general of BAAIGM, said: "First, when old age allowance was introduced in our country, it was meant only for very old people who had no source of income and lived in rural areas. Now, men aged 65 and women aged 62 who do not have any land or own less than 25 decimal (quarter of an acre) of land are eligible for the allowance. Today, we are looking at what more developed countries are doing for their elderly citizens. Many of those countries have insurance policy for older people, something we do not have in our country. They have also introduced universal pension schemes. It takes at least Taka 4,000 for any person in this country just to get by every month. But no country can take care of its citizens forever. Keeping this in mind, we want our youths to start saving money now, so when they become senior citizens, they can take care of themselves.”

“Today, many people have good financial resources, but they do not have good old age homes where they live. I went to China recently. In one particular province, they have built an old people’s village. Elderly people who live there have all the facilities they need. By the year 2050, the elderly population of the world would be 20 percent and youths will be 19 percent. We will need institutions that will provide long-term care and palliative care. I believe, from a commercial point of view, big business houses can invest in this sector. Our main challenge now is to motivate our youth to take care of their elderly family members. The number of caregivers is decreasing and we will need many more caregivers in the future."  Akter Rahman added.

Shamsun Nahar, 74, is a lifetime member of Probin Hitoishi Sangha (BAAIGM). She said: "I became a lifetime member two years ago. I never really depended on anyone to take care of me. Although all my children are financially sound and they would love me to live with them, I give my privacy and self-respect more importance. That is why I became a member. I went there once and saw some people known to me living there."

Zahid Ahmed, an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, informed Y&I: "In our country, we have a welfare act called ‘Maintenance of Parent Act 2013’. Children should take care of their parents. Normally, most parents do not want to complain about their children, no matter how bad the situation is. However, if any parent submits a written complaint that their children are not taking care of them or supporting them financially, then those parents will get help from the law and get some remedy for their complaint.”

“Normally, the court will ask both the parties to go for an out-of-court settlement. To resolve the matter, a local government representative may be asked to settle the matter. If that does not work and it becomes a court case, and the child is found guilty, then they would be fined Taka 1 lakh (100,000) or jailed for three months,” he added.

Photos: Courtesy, File.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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