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Travails of the elderly - EDITORIAL

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28 December 2015 08:19 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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 42-year-old woman was recently arrested at Balagolla for allegedly locking up her 72-year-old father in a kennel. The father was living in a cramped room – similar to a cage made of bricks and metal bars, where the family dogs were once held, the report said.

Then, last month Meetiyagoda police were able to rescue a 78-year-old mother locked in a bathroom adjoining a toilet which was under construction. The woman had been locked in the bathroom by her granddaughter.

According to another media report, in a similar incident an elderly mother of nine had been abandoned in a hut in Thirappane and had not been fed by any of her nine children, leaving the sacred duty to be carry out by the neighbours.

These are some of the media reports that had moved the people of the country recently, at least for a while. Five such stories had been covered by the media during the past six months, but only to be forgotten again by those who were shocked to see their plight. No one was interested to know the fate of these hapless parents after that. Only the death of the father in the first story referred to above was reported in the media last week. Others were like scenes from the movies for television viewers including the authorities concerned and policy makers of the country just to be emotionally moved for a while and be forgotten. Finally these incidents too became some sort of entertainment for the country.



But this is an indication of a bigger problem existing in the country for decades. The best symptom of the problem is the decade old niggardly public assistance allowance also known as “pin-padi”, which is usually spent, in most cases for buying candy for their grandchildren.

Above incidents were looked at by the society as the wickedness and ungratefulness of the children of the victimised parents. However, that is only one aspect of the problem. The main cause of the problem is circumstantial and societal. When it is coupled with innate uncultured mentality or poverty or both, it is openly manifested as a disaster, as in the cases of those parents cited above.

These are not isolated incidents, but are faced by elders with disabilities such as vision problems, hearing problems and mobility problems which restrict their activities of daily living and independence. These are harrowing tales, irrespective of whether the family concerned is rich or poor. The generation gap is another problem that turns the situation worse, since most elderly people are too adamant in adhering to their habits, lifestyles and authority on the family which creates unpleasant clashes with their offspring. In most cases these are hidden behind cultural veils and interestingly members of such families too sometimes curse the children of those parents cited in the above-mentioned stories.

There are about two million senior citizens – those 60 years and above – who constitute almost 10 per cent of the total population according to some estimates while some others put it at 12 per cent. In 1971 Sri Lanka’s elderly population was 6.3% of the total population and in 1981 it rose to 6.6%. It is expected to be 20.7% by 2031, according to one estimate.

Parents are locked in kennels and abandoned in bathrooms in a country where the four great religions teach how to treat parents while the State and civil society commemorates the International Day of Elders on October 1 every year.

In Sri Lanka the elders are left to the mercy of their children who are in most cases under severe economic pressure themselves and find it difficult to balance the demands of both their offspring and their elderly parents. However, society has a responsibility in this regard as in some western countries where the elderly people are certain how they are going to spend the last days of their life. If we can afford to multi-billion mega projects some of which are white elephants. Why is it that we cant’s set up such projects to facilitate our elders to live their last days in peace, at home or in the homes for the elderly?

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