I was taken aback while skimming through an online newspaper where it was stated that a government official left her old mother at a railway station having been pressurised by her wife who is a magistrate. I am not sure whether the news was true or false, but it was really heart-breaking as such incidents take place in our society every now and then.
This is not the only instance of feebleness of the elderly people in Bangladesh. Rather, there are hundreds of instances that the elderly people are passing very tough time and in some cases, they are transmuting into a burden of their children for whose betterment they have sacrificed their whole life. Thus, the issue of elderly care deserves immediate attention of the government.
In most of the developed countries, the government takes over the responsibility of the elderly people. There are many old homes, whether these elderly people live with others. In addition to providing residences, all other facilities, including medical care are provided by the government. Despite different opportunities being provided to them by the government, these people fail to remain attached with their children and grandchildren. Of course, one may argue that the situation is different in developed countries as in most of the cases, the children start to live separately when they reach the age of 18. So, over the period of time, the space for emotional attachment with the parents becomes weaker. But, we should not forget the fact that parental love is universal, irrespective of the country context that cannot be compensated by providing different type of opportunities. Thus, these older people in developed countries must have a feeling of getting detached from their family members.
The situation of elderly care is totally different in Bangladesh. Historically, people of Bangladesh have experience of living in joint families where taking care of the parents in their old age, when they are unable to meet up their demands, has become a responsibility for the children. It has become very normal that the family members are voluntarily discharging the responsibility of the elderly care which is supposed to be done by the state. Of course, we cannot compare the situation of Bangladesh with the developed countries as we have resource constraints on the part of the government.
But, at the same time, due to the advent of industrialisation and urbanisation, many types of changes have occurred that have made the issue of elderly care more complex. Over the periods of time, the value of joint families has been overridden by the introduction of the nuclear family. Nowadays, in majority of the cases, the younger generations want to live separately where there is hardly any space for their older parents. In some cases, situation compels some of them to remain away from their parents. Of course, there are exceptions as well. But, those exceptions cannot be treated as examples.
In the recent past, the incidence of elderly abuses has increased quite sharply not only in the rural areas but also in the urban areas. Very often, these people are subject to mistreatment by their family members and the society. Most importantly, they have become burden for their children on the ground that they are unproductive and fail to contribute to the family. This sort of treatment frustrates them that also affect their mental health. The gravity of the situation aggravates to a great extent once they get sick. All these issues have made the elderly people vulnerable at the later life.
The government of Bangladesh deserves appreciation for introducing a number of programmes under the social safety net (SSN) for the elderly people. But, the amount and coverage of these programmes are so low that elderly people could not manage their livelihood through the benefits of these programmes. Moreover, there are some allegations that different corrupt practices and the existence of patron-clientelism have been negatively affecting the process of identification and allocation of the real beneficiaries of these programmes.
The government deserves appreciation for enactment of “Parents Care Act, 2013” in order to make sure that children are compelled to take good care of their parents. The provision of the law suggests that the children are obligated to take necessary initiatives to look after their parents and provide them with food and shelter. The provision of the law also suggests that if parents do not live with their children, each child is required to pay 10 per cent of the total income regularly to their parents. They are also required to meet their parents regularly. The parents have also been given the right to file a case against their children if they do not support them. There is also the provision of TK. 200,000 as fine, and six months of imprisonment if the children violate the law. Unfortunately, the level of understanding about the legal provision among the elderly people is very low. Moreover, the implementation status of this law is very unsatisfactory.
Although the government has taken a number of initiatives for the elderly people, but, elderly people have been suffering from different types of harassments in their everyday life. The practice of old homes is getting expanded in the country, making them compelled to stay there without the love and affection of children and grandchildren. At the village level, the situation is very disastrous as many of the older people are not getting any support from the children that are compelling them to beg. If this situation persists, there will be a catastrophe in the upcoming years as a large number of people are becoming older in every year in our country.
Under the above circumstances, the government needs to consider a couple of issues. First, it should consider initiating a new social safety net programme for the elderly people. Moreover, the amount of the money should be reasonably good for maintaining their livelihood. Second, the government should pay immediate attention to the effective implementation of the parents act, 2013. We should not forget the fact that these people have contributed a lot for the betterment of the country through their life circle. Thus, they deserve care and sympathy not only from their children, but also from the government. Finally, I would urge to all to change the mindset about their parents. Parents should not be considered a burden on them. They should realise the fact that whatever position they have been occupying in the society is due to the contribution of their parents.
Finally, we are living in such a society where we have seen that parents are taken care of by their children at their older age. Thus, we should not come out from this tradition. Through the development of the modernisation and digital age, people have become self-centred. But, there are certain values that should not be forgotten. Parental care is such a responsibility that should be done with sincerity. We should consider the fact that if we fail to show respect to our parents, we would receive the same treatment from our children as they are growing up with the experience that their parents are not taking care of their parents.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh