Forcing its senior citizens to beg is among Pakistan’s most abysmal failures

Beggars are everywhere.Wherever you go, you will find them.  When you go to bus stands, railway stations, hospitals, restaurants and to other public places in metropolises, cities or towns, you will likely see them raising their hands before you begging for money. Along with young women and children,a great majority of the poor elderly people of Pakistan are involved in the practice of beggary. Finding no other source of income for their survival, they have chosen to spread hands before people and ask them for money.Regrettably, begging for money by senior citizens at the public places, to sustain themselves and their family members, is a consequence of Pakistan’s failure to improve the standard of their life. The perilous situation requires prolific policies to provide them with the help and assistance they need for their survival.

In Pakistan, senior citizens (aged 60 years and above), a small and minor section of the population, constitute 6.5 to 7 per cent of the country’s population of 200 million. They must be regarded as symbols of esteem, wisdom, and piety and should enjoy high value, respect, and dignity. Although according to cultural norms and moral values existing in our society, they are supposed to be treated with respect, care, and love, along with basic health and survival facilities in the society, yet a great majority of them have been facing a number of problems, including discrimination, health, poverty, and protection of their rights. Moreover,elderly beggars, alongside these problems, have been experiencing hardships of life and undergo harsh treatment, abusive and filthy language, from the people in front of whom they spread their hands for money (kheraat).

Ironically, of the overall elderly population, few have access to pensions and healthcare and many live off their children’s support.Because of abject poverty, most of them are considered an economic burden on the family and are not looked after by their children. A report reveals that around 30 percent of elderly people live without financial support from their children while 50 percent said their children displayed indifference as to how they lived.As a result,most of the poor elderly people lead miserable, sorrowful, and gloomy lives. They get involved in the practice of beggary in order to support themselves. In poverty stricken rural areas of the country, most of the elderly people die due to the lack of adequate food and medical facilities.

The Constitution of Pakistan, for promotion of social and economic well-being of elderly people, casts an obligation on the state to provide basic necessities of life for those citizens who are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness, or unemployment. But the government has not shouldered responsibility to take constructive and effective measures to implement the related article of the Constitution. Furthermore, in 2001, with an objective to draft a comprehensive national policy in line with national and international commitments for the identification of problems experienced by elderly people, the then president of Pakistan had constituted National Senior Citizens Task Force (NSCTF). Unfortunately, because of the lack of interest and will, NSCTF could not accomplish the assigned responsibilities.

Senior Citizens Act 2014 and Senior Citizens Welfare Act 2016 enforced by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh respectively had raised rays of hope that something would be done for senior citizens’ welfare and betterment. Special councils headed by the provincial social welfare ministers were constituted and it was envisioned that the councils would issue cards to senior citizens who apply for them and would frame policy proposals. The cards will enable them whatever facilities are offered to them.  The KP council will propose better care for senior citizens at hospitals and establish homes for elderly people, and the cards issued by it will authorize the holders free of charge entry to public museums, libraries and parks, separate counters at hospitals and concessions in medical charges. The Sindh council will establish elderly citizens lodging establishment, homes and provide free geriatric, medical and health services with free medicines and 25 per cent concession in all private hospitals, medical centers and clinics. They will be offered 50 per cent concession in fares in road transport and 25 per cent discount on purchase of goods, drugs, medicines, and essential commodities. Besides, the Sindh government would provide free services for funeral and burial.  But, regrettably, both provinces have completely failed to implement these laws.

Senior citizens’ rights are human rights and we must protect them. The government of Pakistan realizing the miseries of the growing number of elderly beggars should undertake the introduction of policies to provide regular stipends and healthcare to them and establish old-age houses for them with the help of financial institutions such as Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP),and Pakistan Bait-ul-mal and the provincial social welfare departments. If these elderly people are properly looked after and taken care of, they can positively contribute to the growth of Pakistan using their skills, experiences, and capabilities.

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