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An elderly labourer works at a construction site in Peshawar. —Dawn
An elderly labourer works at a construction site in Peshawar. —Dawn

PESHAWAR: Fazal Ghani, 80, a resident of Hazarkhwani area comes every day and squats on footpath in Peshawar Saddar to sell miswak(dry tooth picks) to earn a humble livelihood for his old and sick life partner and also to pay rent of his two-room home.

Decades ago, he had shifted his family from Parango village in Charsadda to Peshawar in search of job but he ended up only as a rickshaw driver all through his life and could raise his three sons.

“My three sons abandoned me and their sick mother 10 years ago. I am compelled to come here as I have no other option. Being old and sick, I cannot do any other job. May be life for poor is like this,” Mr Ghani narrated his woeful tale with tears in his eyes.

Official says a comprehensive law for welfare of elderly people is yet to see light of the day

Haji Saidwali, 70, a resident of Mashokel, told this scribe that he had long been abandoned by his family owing to some dispute. He said that he tried hard to make a square meal either through doing some work or begging. “I just need money to buy some medicines and edible to sustain life. For me, life is a burden,” he complained.

One can see several old people, most of them over 60 years of age, in different corners of Peshawar Saddar, Qissa Khawani Bazaar and on University Road. They either beg or sell a few insignificant items just to attract attention of the passers-by. Experts believe that treatment with senior citizens in families is getting from bad to worse owing to poverty, lack of space and withdrawal from social norms where old and senior people would get respect and honour in the past. Youngsters would get inspiration and guidance from experiences of their elders.

Sajid Rahman, a student of social work department at University of Peshawar, familiar with the issue, however, has a different view. He said that a new begging mafia was operative in the city. He said that the mafia hired old people and rented various busy corners around the city.

“Old people can attract greater attention of children, women and youngsters. They can fetch Rs10,000 to Rs14,000 per month which is a good lucrative business. Old people are lured to the business through various means. Assurance of protection is given to them in case of police raid,” said Mr Rahman.

A poor octogenarian like Ghani Baba would never know what the successive provincial governments and other so-called social welfare organisations had been doing for the benefits of the senior citizens.

No authentic data or information as usual about and on the miserable plight of the senior citizens are available.

The previous provincial government of ANP and PPP had taken some steps and even launched a ‘senior citizen’s home’ in Jehangirabad area in 2012 to provide medical treatment, food, clothing and recreational facilities to the elderly people over 60 years of age.

The facility with a capacity for 25 old people was launched with an estimated cost of Rs14.8 million. It was pledged that it would be extended to other districts but soon all hopes dashed to ground because the said facility couldn’t function as it should or envisaged.

The incumbent PTI government came up with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Senior Citizens Act, 2014 to provide for the well-being, comfort and dignity of elderly people.

Under the Act, a senior citizens welfare council was also set up to issue a senior citizen card to allow the elderly person to get financial support, concession in medical and medicines charges, separate counters and wards in hospitals, free of charge entry to public museums, parks, libraries, recreational facilities and many other incentives.

An official in the social welfare department, when contacted, said that members of the senior citizens welfare council could hold only one meeting many months ago and nothing could come out of it.

He said that a comprehensive senior citizens law was yet to see light of the day due to lack of will on the part of government.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2017