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Lay down the law

Lack of interest of the government in law-making for the elderly adds to their problems

Lay down the law

Looking into history, it becomes obvious that the governments have not developed policies that may help the older people to remain active and capable of achieving their potential, for themselves and for society. Lawmakers may have made promises to adopt policies to facilitate their needs — but promises are not always kept.

A Senior Citizen Bill was presented in the National Assembly in the 1990s for the first time. However, it remained unattended till last year an Islamabad-based welfare organisation, Pakistan National Council on Ageing (PNCA), took it up. The draft was improved after several consultative meetings.

PNCA, that has retired bureaucrats, along with others, among its office-bearers, proposed changes in existing laws. But there is no breakthrough yet.

Currently, the bill lies with the Commission of Justice and Human Rights and its approval is awaited before it can be presented in the National Assembly.

This is despite the fact that Pakistan is among the 15 countries where population of people over the age of 60 is more than 10 million.

As per a study titled, Ageing in the 21st Century — A celebration and a challenge, around seven per cent of the total population of Pakistan is over 60 with a figure of 11.6 million. “This figure will rise to 43.3 million or 16 per cent population by 2050,” says Waqas Qureshi, Communication and Advocacy Officer at HelpAge International in Pakistan. The London-based HelpAge is the only international organisation working on these issues in Pakistan. The study cited above was produced jointly by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and HelpAge International.

Qureshi says there is no significant development regarding such legislation in Balochistan. A senior citizen bill has been introduced in the Sindh Assembly on Oct 27, 2014. In Punjab, the draft law is ready and after input and review by different ministries involved, it is awaiting approval of the cabinet. There is need for active involvement of the ruling party so that it can be taken up on a priority basis. Once the cabinet reviews and approves it, it can be sent to the assembly for approval.

The draft law calls for the formation of a council comprising minister, parliamentarians, retired academics, representatives of NGOs, member of business community, etc, which shall compile data on various aspects of ageing. It shall also formulate policy proposals and action plan concerning senior citizens of urban and rural areas.

The council, when formed, will find solutions for various areas relating to senior citizens, such as financial assistance, medical care, legal aid, recreation, foster care, public transport, funeral and burial services, housing, interest-free soft loans to senior citizens, and any other measures.

The situation is encouraging in KP where the draft was taken up for the first time towards the end of 2013. Within 10 months, the draft has been approved in a cabinet meeting, signed by KP chief minister and sent for approval. Today, KP is the first province to have a Senior Citizens’ Ordinance.

Qureshi believes a major role is was played by Older People Associations (OPAs), which are running different projects and advocacy campaigns in the province. “There are about 200 OPAs, comprising older people which are supported by HelpAge,” he says. The members of OPAs are also given loans against social collateral so that they can start businesses, especially in rural areas.

Pakistan has also made an international commitment about developing age-friendly cities. In 2007, the World Health Organisation (WHO) arranged a meeting in which 33 countries participated and promised to introduce senior citizen-friendly urban planning. PCNA also participated in this meeting and Capital Development Authority (CDA) signed an MoU with WHO. But even after the passage of so many years there is not much progress in this regard.

Abdul Rub Farooqi, Executive Director, Jaag Welfare Movement, a Punjab-based organisation working on senior citizens says that his organisation has conducted several consultations and seminars for advocacy of Punjab Senior Citizen Bill with parliamentarians. But the progress, he says, has been slow. He adds the bill is in the cabinet division. He says several ministers have made promises to take the bill forward but to no avail.

Farooqi says the government must realise that legal framework is more important than allocating billions in funds like those meant for building old homes in the province. “The government,” he says, “must pass the law and set up the council which shall decide whether there is need for old houses or not. It can go for old homes only if the council approves them.”

He hopes funds will not be a problem as social welfare allocations, Bait ul Maal funds and donations could be used to provide social security cover and other facilities to older people. The corporate sector can also direct their funds in this direction. “Why older people cannot be categorised as vulnerable?” he asks.

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

shahzada irfan
The author is a staff reporter and can be reached at [email protected]

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