The world commemorated International Day for Older Persons on October 1
By Himanshu Rath
In South Asian countries including India, the human rights of older people are a matter of concern. While progress has been made in some areas, there are still challenges to be addressed.
The world is commemorating International Day for Older Persons on October 1. The purpose of the celebrations is to raise awareness about the issues concerning older persons and also provide an opportunity to take steps for their welfare, empowerment, and respect.
Changing profile of older people across the region
The profile of older people has also changed dramatically over the years. Therefore, their needs are also varied. While young old people (60-70 years) are comparatively more active and healthier and need gainful engagement opportunities to keep themselves self-reliant, older people (71+ years) who are physically less active, need family, social, financial as well and psychological support.
India and other South-Asian countries today have a very large population (and ever-increasing) of old people who are first-timers (as old persons in their families). Most of them have not seen their parents living this long. For them, Old Age is a new experience for which they never got any opportunity to prepare themselves.
Challenges being faced by older people
Fast changing socio-economic scenario, industrialization, rapid urbanization, breaking up of joint family systems, cut-throat competition, and demanding lifestyle of young generations for better opportunities and prospects, older people are left behind, to live without any family and psychological support, which is most needed in old age.
Coupled with the ever-growing needs of older people, fewer opportunities and provisions available for them, creates a void in their life. This is the void, which causes a lot of health, social, and psychological issues like loneliness, marginalization, isolation, and helplessness. These are the basic factors that encourage mistreatment and misbehavior in old age, age discrimination, neglect, elder abuse, and violation of the human rights of older people.
Since older people are comparatively less visible in public places due to various reasons, their voice often remains unheard. The majority of older people face harassment within their own houses at the hands of their family members. Due to their dependency on their family members, complete helplessness, and vulnerability, older people don’t raise their voices against any form of elder abuse. They accept it as a part of their bitter life.
The rights of an individual in old age are considered as more of a moral responsibility of the family members. No one seems to be concerned about the fact that an individual who is old has certain basic human rights.
The level of awareness
In developing South-Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar due to the high prevalence of illiteracy and lack of awareness about their rights, older people, particularly human rights, older people and even their younger family members are not aware of their basic rights. The condition of older women is comparatively more critical. Most women live within four walls of their homes throughout their lives, hence they remain more vulnerable as they face not only age discrimination but also gender discrimination in Old Age.
Older people are discriminated against because of their Age in family matters, family functions, participation in social-cultural activities, re-employment, social interaction, etc.
In the region, older people from minority communities in their respective countries have to struggle more for respect, dignity, and basic human rights compared to older people from dominant communities.
Awareness about gender equality in society, particularly among older people, and protection of basic and human rights of the elderly, particularly elderly women is very urgent, given their ever-increasing longevity among them.
More focused legislation and policies are need of the hour
One of the key issues is the lack of specific legislation or policies targeting the rights of older people. Most countries in the region lack comprehensive legal frameworks that protect the rights and well-being of older individuals. This can lead to a lack of access to essential services like healthcare, social protection, and financial support.
Some countries have taken steps towards recognizing the rights of older people. For example, India has the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, which provides for the welfare and maintenance of older individuals.
The way forward
To decrease the incidences of age discrimination, mistreatment, elder abuse, and neglect within families, society, and at the national level – various gender equality, elderly-friendly supportive measures need to be undertaken at different levels across the South Asian Region. Educating and sensitizing younger generations about the needs & rights of older people, through school curriculum, school level activities can be more effective as well as meaningful.
Creating awareness in society about the needs & rights of older people, particularly about their human rights, has become the need of the hour. Efforts must be undertaken to protect the dignity of every human being in old age while strengthening the human rights of all older people.
While there are ongoing challenges, efforts are being made to improve the human rights situation for older people in South Asian countries. Governments, organizations, and society as a whole must work together to ensure the protection of the rights, dignity, and well-being of older people.
Himanshu Rath is head of the Agewell Foundation USA Inc. It is a 501(c)(3) registered Non-Profit initiative, committed to working for the welfare of destitute Old People desperately needing assistance.