The famous American cowboy entertainer Gene Autry in 1931 sang a beautiful song about “That Silver-Haired Daddy Of Mine”. Later popular singers like Jim Reeves also sang this heartfelt if not heart breaking song with tens of millions of copies being sold. The last memorable verse goes like this, “If I could recall all the heartaches, Dear old daddy, I’ve caused you to bear; If I could erase those lines from your face and bring back the gold to your hair; If God would but grant me the power, just to turn back the pages of time; I would give all I own, if I could but atone to that silver haired daddy of mine”.
With such beautiful and enduring thoughts, Sri Lanka on October 1 celebrated International Elders Day along with International Children’s Day. The Daily Mirror in our editorial yesterday intended to speak out about the importance of looking after and providing the needs of both children and elders. But space did not permit us to speak of both. So we today focus on the elders or senior citizens who though at times may be left alone or bedridden, have much to contribute to the journey of our country through the wisdom that comes only from the experiences of life and maturity. Most people know that the deep, loving guidance from an elderly grandmother or grandfather is wiser than thousands of pontifications from politicians and other leaders.
With the population of elders or senior citizens rising far beyond the youth working population in most countries we need to focus not so much on charity but on opportunities for the elders to be actively involved in the economy. Such opportunities could be the leisure industry social work and senior services, adult education, medical industry, care industry, research and writing and the tourism industry.
According to World Bank graphics and figures, Population aging is a universal phenomenon, but it looms particularly large for Sri Lanka. Not only is Sri Lanka’s population among the oldest in the non-developed world, but Sri Lanka is also one of the fastest aging countries in the world. Sri Lanka’s share of population over 60 years old in 2000 was 9.2 percent, which exceeded the average of all regions in the world except 34 OECD countries, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Population projections show a record aging. In 2050, the share of Sri Lankan population over 60 years old is projected to reach 28.5 percent, an increase in comparison to 2000 and matched by a few countries.
In April this year, a national Conference on an Inclusive Micro Finance System for Elders was held and Suminda Singappuli, Director of the National Secretariat for Elders said there was a need to review Central Bank figures on overall poverty and the poverty levels of elders. The Director called for a comprehensive pension scheme encompassing the entire elderly above 65 years. According to Samantha Liyanawaduge, Executive Director of HelpAge Sri Lanka, the Elders Protection (Amendment) Act No. 5 of 2011 specified that elders should not be discriminated on account of age. He said that despite the provisions of this Act most financial institutions such as private, commercial and state banks did not give loans to those who were more than 60 years.
The Sri Lankan elders population would, eventually exceed the working population below 30 years in another 10 to 15 years. Therefore it is necessary to take effective steps to ensure the financial security of the elders and to help them be economically active. According to Dr. Gamage Karunaratne, Director of Training at the National Secretariat, some of the challenges are aging and poverty, social isolation, retirement, care giving, elder abuse, prejudice and discrimination and finding means or money.
In the context of micro finance for elders, he said that Sri Lanka could learn from countries like Bangladesh, Belgium and Romania on personal micro credit and professional micro credit. He also talked about Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank concept which could also be used to help to restore the human dignity of elders instead of leaving them dependent on children or charity projects.
The legendary Mahatma Gandhi, whose birth anniversary was celebrated yesterday has given us a gem of wisdom regarding elders when he said that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members. In this era of instant communication and fast moving technology where most people have little or no time for elders, let it not be said that Gandhi was casting pearls before swine.
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