CELEBRATION of World Children’s and Elders Day is a convergence of the past with the future. In a fast-paced world, both categories are facing a myriad of challenges that have to be dealt with by society. Running an eye over newspapers on this marked day made interesting reading. One newspaper screamed out a headline of 6,000 elders being in homes.
The fact remains that many elders are turning to institutions to support them in their old age rather than on families as Sri Lanka faces the challenge of an increasingly-ageing population, and the challenge of development takes on different proportions. By 2030, over 22% of the population will be over the age of 60, a factor that has not been addressed by the Government in its policy framework.
The report noted that there are 250 elders homes scattered islandwide and around 600 of these elders appeal to the Government monitoring arm to assist them to find monies to exist on. The Elders Secretariat intervenes in these cases and works with the families of the relevant elders to find them sufficient funds on which to subsist. Tragically, in the first nine months of this year alone, 158 complaints were received, out of which the Secretariat managed to solve 117. However, it is clearly just the tip of the iceberg, with a casual walk down most roads revealing more homeless elders, without even homes to take care of them.
The Government has to consider not only taking care of the elderly but also ensuring that future retirees are taken care of. Changing employment frameworks so that elderly people can be employed on a part-time basis so that they do not take away jobs from the younger people but still have the capacity to provide expertise when needed is important. Moreover, older people need to stay abreast of technological advances, without which they would find it difficult to find employment. Assisting them to save, finding care for them in their old age and helping fund burgeoning medical bills is just a fraction of the tasks ahead for society. In the present circumstances, it is impractical to expect families to take care of their elders alone but many would do so if they were given some support structure.
On the opposite side of the paradigm are children, who are being subjected to many horrors. The child helpline operated by the National Child Protection Association (NCPA) has had over 10,000 phone calls, many made by children themselves. In the last month alone, the number of calls topped 3,800; around 15 complaints that can be investigated are made each day, according to the authority, showing how serious the plight of children in Sri Lanka really is. Some of the children are referred to counselling centres, while others have their grievances dealt with the Police.
The war has also left many children destitute and a strong movement from both the public and private sector is needed to assist both these vulnerable sections of society. The ultimate point of development is to give the people a better standard of living and therefore it is imperative that the growth drives incorporate them as well. As the rest of the world moves forward, it is important that the elderly and children are assisted to keep pace with change and simply allowed to live in peace and contentment.