Aging Nepalese population faces neglect

By Lochana Sharma  |  Dec. 18, 2012 at 5:37 PM
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KATHMANDU, Nepal (GPI)-- Man Bahadur Singh, 87, can’t walk without a walking stick. He has four daughters, two sons and 18 grandchildren, but he says he has no one to depend on. “My children do not care about me,” says Singh, who lives south of the capital, Kathmandu. “Therefore, I have become helpless.” For the last seven years, Singh has been living in a private home for the elderly run by Nijananda Briddhashram, a social organization that advocates for senior citizens’ rights. None of his family members has ever come to visit him in the home. “I am waiting for my death in this old-age home,” he says, wiping tears from the corner of his eye with the back of his hand. Singh had a successful career as a machine operator and then a mechanical foreman. With his earnings, he was able to live comfortably and buy three houses. The rest, he says, he spent on raising and educating his children and later for their marriages. But as his money dwindled, so did his bond with his relatives. Having exhausted his retirement savings on his children, Singh and his wife earned their living by selling watches and vegetables on footpaths in Kathmandu for four years. When his wife died in 1992, Singh says life became difficult. He couldn’t continue his footpath sales because of hearing problems. And his children didn’t help even when he had no food to eat and was living on what his neighbors gave him out of pity. Eventually, one of his acquaintances took him to Nijananda Briddhashram’s free home for the elderly. Singh says he never imagined he would be living here. “You never know where the tide of time takes you,” Singh says, choking up with emotion. He finds company in meeting other residents in the home. “What can I do?” Singh asks. “I cannot just die! God has provided me this place.” To pass the time, he says he spends his time writing poetry: Life becomes a burden to oneself, Sometimes death is more welcome, With no stars and the moon, the night is dark, I want to lose myself in the gloom. As both life expectancy and the number of senior citizens increase in Nepal, neglect of the elderly by their families and the government is also on the rise. While some senior citizens say they have been left to die in homes for the elderly, others resort to begging in the streets to survive. A lack of funding and personnel has paralyzed one-third of homes for the elderly here. The government has established laws and regulations to care for senior citizens, but advocates say enforcement is weak. Advocates call for education and public policy to cultivate a society that respects the elderly. Citizens age 60 and older account for 9 percent, or about 2.7 million, of Nepal’s population, according to preliminary data from the 2011 census conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics. The population growth rate of the elderly is 3.6 percent, compared with the national rate of 1.4 percent. Increased access to health services in remote areas of the country has helped to increase the average life span, which in turn has increased the number of senior citizens in Nepal, says Krishna Murari Gautam, chairman of Ageing Nepal, a nongovernmental organization established in 2011 to address concerns of the elderly. But the rise in the elderly population struggles against a rise in neglect. Gautam cites the 10-year Maoist insurgency, poverty, migration internally and abroad for educational and employment opportunities and the rising preference for the nuclear family among the major reasons for neglect of the elderly in Nepal.

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