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Old people suffer as govt looks the other way

Published Aug 31, 2012 01:01am

A Pakistani old man — File Photo
A Pakistani old man — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: From her looks, frail and old Amna Bibi should have been lying inside the Federal Government Services Hospital in the care of doctors. But she is seen sitting outside the hospital – week after week and year after year.

Amna, 76, is all alone in this world and sits there selling fruit to hospital visitors for sustenance.

Although the old widow has a daughter, she lives with her husband.

“I have been selling fruit in this tent for over 15 years as my three sons died while they were young,” she told this reporter.

“I have no family support and did not want to beg,” insisted Ms Amna, “I am a Pathan and from where we come, we don't beg what may come.”

Telling her story of hard work, she said: “I buy the fruits early in the morning and sell them here.”

The old lady allows every customer to hand-pick fruits, and charges a lower price than other vendors beside her on the road.

Amna is also witty and smart and knows about the financial crunch the country faces and the degenerating affairs of governance.

“There is no regular income. It fluctuates like the price of dollar against rupee. But I do manage to make Rs400 to Rs500,” she claimed.

Amna Bibi is one of hundreds of thousands of senior citizens who still work well beyond their capacity to make their ends meet. To date, there has been no official policy ever introduced by the federal government to address the concerns of the old people in the country.

According to Ms Adeeba Aslam, country director of HelpAge International, a non-governmental organisation working on social protection of the elderly, “people who are more than 60 years of age form seven per cent of the total population of the country. They are numbered over 10.2 million.”

Ms Aslam added: “Almost 52 per cent of this old age population in Pakistan are women while 48 per cent are men.

However, most of the senior citizens who are women are widows.

They have no one to look after their health concerns, food and other economic needs.”

She complained that the federal government has no major programme for the protection of old age people and they either had to beg in the markets or were abandoned by their family members.

“A Senior Citizens’ Protection Bill is still pending with the government since 2007 and we are pushing the government to approve it since the bill has clauses in which government is expected to provide protection (economic, social and health),” claimed the official of the non-governmental body.

However, she said that till the bill is approved, “there exists no strong social protection system for elderly people like Amna Bibi who are left on the mercy of the unfriendly system.”