Print Edition - 2013-10-08  |  Development

Needy denied grants in lack of identification

- Weena Pun, Kathmandu

Oct 7, 2013-

The police in patrol picked up Kanchhi Magarni, around 70 years old, off the streets of Kalimati in the Capital five years ago and sent her to an old-age home nearby run by Dil Shova Shrestha after they could not locate Magarni’s relatives. Around a year ago, doctors found a tumour in Magarni’s uterus and Shrestha now requires Rs 40,000 to operate on it. According to the national policy, Magarni is entitled to a free treatment. Unfortunately, because Magarni was abandoned on the streets, she has no proof of citizenship or of her age.

Most of the 39 elderly that Shrestha looks after at her shelter home famously known as ‘Aamako Ghar’ (Mother’s house) were taken off the streets either by Shrestha herself or by the police. According to Shrestha, this has been the case throughout the seventeen-year-old history of Aamako Ghar. So far she has taken care of 150 old people cast aside by their family members and society, without anything in their names, including documents to prove their citizenship.

This means most of the old people that Shrestha houses do not have citizenship cards to claim social security allowance of Rs 500 a month (once they are over 70 years of age) or receive free medical treatment ensured by the government once they are over 60 years of age. Without papers, those who are disabled cannot receive disability pensions, also

Rs 500 a month, either. At Aamako Ghar, eight are blind in both eyes, two are mute, two deaf and two are bed-ridden with paralyses, and none receive disability allowances.

Shrestha says she tried to obtain citizenship cards for the old people so that they could collect social security pensions but in vain. “Erstwhile Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai did promise to help me procure citizenship cards for them, but he only managed to get nine red, blue and yellow books [disability ID cards] and I don’t know what to do with them,” says Shrestha.

Surya Prasad Shrestha, under secretary at Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, says that problems like those faced by Dil Shova and the elderly she looks after will be easily solved once the government passes the standardisation guidelines for old-age homes. Currently, there are around 100 old-age homes in Nepal, including Pashupati Briddhashram in Kathmandu, the oldest one established in 1881. But because there are no set rules for these shelters to follow, old people without homes are often deprived of social security services they deserve.

The government has already prepared a draft of the standardisation guidelines with the help of an international non-government organisation called Help Age International. Together, the government and the organisation conducted a study on 11 old-age homes in Kathmandu and recommended that all old-age homes have facilities which take nutrition and health requirements of old-age people in mind.

“The draft is not finalised yet. We are working on it,” says Surya Prasad, unwilling to divulge further standardisation details.

Professionals working in the field of geriatric care centres applaud the government for finally getting serious about old people—132 years after the establishment of the country’s fist old-age home. Decreasing mortality rate, increasing life expectancy, increasing adoption of family planning methods and changing family dynamics from traditional joint families to modern nuclear families mean that the country can no longer afford to ignore the ageing population, especially those without families or abandoned by their families.

Sangita Niroula, country director at Help Age International, welcomes the government move on guidelines. “If you look at Pashupati Briddhashram itself, you will see how pitiful the conditions are. The situation is worse in institutions which take in two or three old people as a front to rake in funding. Frankly though, in the field of development, there is little money for the elderly and therefore little attention,” says Niroula.

While Niroula is optimistic on the guidelines and the attention they pay to the elderly, Dil Shova advises caution.

“Policies on old-age homes won’t change the plight of the ageing population. We need to attack the moral poverty that underlies the situation. Old people have the right to spend their last years with their families and the government needs to work towards that. Old-age homes should be the last resort,” says Dil Shova.

Published: 08-10-2013 08:40

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