Senior citizens in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan continue to yearn that the policies and legislations for their care and welfare, although inadequate, will be fully implemented. Surprisingly, none of the three major political parties seem to be serious in creating a national culture in which older people will not feel discriminated. Even in their election campaigns, plight of senior citizens and plans for mitigation were hardly mentioned. When a state calls itself an Islamic state, does it not mean a welfare state too?
Currently, seven per cent (about 15 million) of the country’s population is above 60 years of age. A rising life expectancy means higher population of old people. According to a UN study, by 2050 there will be 1.4 billion old people in the world, and the number will be more than children under 15 years worldwide. Every second two people celebrate their 60th birthday. It further says that the demographic shift makes it urgent to ensure that older persons fully participate in social life and they are cared for. Old people face increasing health problems. In the prevailing pandemic, the fatality rate of people over 80 years is five times the global average.
Article 38b of the Constitution of Pakistan provides for all citizens, within available resources of the country, facilities for work and adequate livelihood with reasonable rest and leisure. It means that social and economic wellbeing of people will be the cherished objective of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This implies that the state has an obligation to provide help, support and necessities of life for those who are permanently or temporarily unable to sustain on account of old age, sickness or unemployment.
There is a gross discrimination between the pensioners who retired in eighties and those who retired afterwards
There is a gross discrimination between the pensioners who retired in eighties and those who retired afterwards. For many years, old pensioners have been crying in wilderness that this anomaly be removed and there should be equal pension for equal work or the same pension for the same grade irrespective of the date of retirement. Over the years, a majority of affected pensioners have perished. Yet, this discrimination persists and that too in an Islamic republic. At one time, the Federal Shariat Court had held that this discrimination in pension was un-Islamic. Unfortunately, at the time, the Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan, in its wisdom, had held the matter otherwise. The poor pensioners could not challenge the decision.
Over the years, there have been ageing policies and legislative instruments in the country. In 1999 and in 2004, national policy for promotion of better health for the elderly was formulated. In 2007, a senior citizens bill was drafted. Unfortunately, none of these instruments became an act of parliament
In 2019, a bill titled, Maintenance and Welfare of Old Parents and Senior Citizens, was introduced in Senate. In the Preamble, it says:
“The Constitution of Pakistan establishes a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental rights and seek to improve the quality of life of all citizens.”
It envisages that the senior citizens must be empowered to continue to live meaningfully and constructively in a society that recognizes them as an important source of knowledge, wisdom and expertise. According to the bill, the senior citizens will enjoy free entry in libraries, parks and other recreational facilities. There were to be separate counters in banks, malls and hospitals. The senior citizens were to be entitled for concessions in public transport. A high-powered Commission was to be constituted to lay down policy framework and monitor its implementation. A similar bill was passed by the Sindh Assembly in 2016. Another bill for Islamabad Capital Territory was also in the offing. Unfortunately, these bills didn’t see the light of the day? Other provinces went through similar exercises, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2015, Baluchistan in 2017 and Punjab in 2013. But, senior citizens continue to wait for their implementation in letter and spirit. Any policy or law without implementation is equal to zero.
Unfortunately, in our culture, older people are not held in high esteem. They are expected to sit at home and recite Allah’s name. Their plight continues to persist. There are no separate counters in hospitals, banks and no separate parking-lots. Just visit a national saving centre and see the predicament of the old and the disabled, both men and women. In this age of advanced technology, why can’t the saving centres automatically transfer profits to commercial bank accounts of senior citizens when it is already being practiced in case of Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) cash transfers.
Talking of cultures, some years ago, a friend in his seventies visited UK on a ticket sent by his son. He went to a barber shop for haircut. At that time, the charges were three ponds. The barber asked him, “Are you a retired person sir”. “Yes”, the gentleman answered. “Then you are a senior citizen sir, you pay half the charges”. Does it happen in our country.?
Pakistan is a signatory to the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) adopted by the Second World Assembly on Ageing in April 2020. But, will the old, weak and physically-challenged persons in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan ever be treated according to the principles of independence, participation, care and self-fulfillment as enshrined in the UN Charter? Perhaps one day, when the motherland has rulers who instead of remaining engaged in perpetual political fighting and keeping their eyes on the next elections will think of the present and the next generations.
This article was originally published at: https://dailytimes.com.pk/635226/states-apathy-towards-senior-citizens/
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.