Two news items published in the Daily Mirror on Monday about the ageing population in Sri Lanka points to the bleak picture of a section of Sri Lankan society that had been neglected after rendering a great service to society. As pointed out by the Central Bank Governor Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy in one of those stories, this is a grave issue that “could be considered the single most serious socio-economic issue faced by policy makers in Sri Lanka at this juncture and probably in the future.”
The story carried in Mirror Business -- the Business Section of the Daily Mirror -- theoretically depicts the seriousness of the issue whereas the other story carried in the front page of the main section of the paper about an elderly man dumped in front of a temple in Walahanduwa on World Elders’ Day graphically explains how the problem affects individual families despite it being not discussed publicly. Yesterday’s Lankadeepa carried another story about a septuagenarian mother who had been abandoned by her children. Several months ago a woman had been arrested for locking up her elderly father in a dog kennel.
Sri Lanka has a fast ageing population and according to World Bank data, the elderly population -- those over 60 years -- is expected to increase from 12.5 per cent to 16.7 per cent by 2021 and by 2041, one out of every four is expected to be an elderly person, making Sri Lanka a country having the oldest population in South Asia. “Sri Lanka is almost unique, the first story said. “We have had our demographic transition before a major economic transition. Usually countries have this ageing process (demographic transition) much further down in terms of their development process. We have got this early,” Dr. Coomaraswamy said at last week’s workshop on ‘Continuous Professional Development’, organized by the Institute of Certified Management Accountants of Sri Lanka (CMA).
Ironically, the ageing problem is not solely attributed to negative developments. Dr. Coomaraswamy said, “one of the major causes is the success in educating the girl child. The fact that girls having very high participation rates in formal education means that they plan to marry late, they plan their families and all that has had positive effects but also brought us to this ageing process quicker than what one normally expects.” Longevity has also increased in recent times due to the relatively higher quality of life, relative improvement in healthcare and health consciousness of the population, the Mirror Business story said.
The US based National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in an article published in 2011 said the ageing of populations, especially in Asian countries, was a result of the demographic transition caused by increases in life expectancy and declines in fertility rates. It is happening at a much faster rate in developing countries. In developed countries the population of those over 60 years of age increased from 7% to 14% within a time-span of a century; many Asian countries are making the same transition in only 25 years.
A high level of economic development will remedy the present situation of the ageing population. But how and when is Sri Lanka going to achieve that development is the challenge the ageing population as well as the policy makers face.
Sri Lanka has a fast ageing population and according to World Bank data, the elderly population -- those over 60 years -- is expected to increase from 12.5 per cent to 16.7 per cent by 2021 and by 2041, one out of every four is expected to be an elderly person, making Sri Lanka a country having the oldest population in South Asia.