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Law for senior citizens

November 23, 2012

THE announcement by a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa minister that the province would soon introduce legislation focusing on senior citizens’ rights must be welcomed. If things go as planned, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be the first provincial government in Pakistan to introduce a much-needed law addressing the rights and concerns of the elderly. What is also important is that the minister said that once the proposed bill becomes law, efforts will be made to enforce its provisions. It is well-known that many finely drafted laws are rendered ineffective in this country due to lack of enforcement. Pakistan has a large number of senior citizens. This age group is expected to grow in keeping with global trends of longevity. Yet neglect of elders in society is widespread and as economic pressures on families increase, traditional safety nets are beginning to fall apart. As a result, seniors have ended up as one of the most vulnerable sections of the population. Many do not have access to proper healthcare or social services. Seniors are especially vulnerable in emergency situations, such as natural disasters.

Along with other issues, the legislation should address access to affordable healthcare for seniors as well as a respectable pension and social security payments, including coverage for those elders who have worked in the informal sector. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s initiative must be lauded while the other provinces must follow suit. However, there is a need to speed up the lawmaking process as it has already taken too long; a draft bill on senior citizens’ rights has been pending since 2007, though neither the centre nor the provinces have up till now made efforts to pass the law. Statements of intent are fine, but the provinces need to introduce the legislation so that a legal framework for the protection of seniors’ rights can be established.