Interview: Amendment to Senior Citizens Act aims to ensure quality life of ageing population – Minister Regmi

The Federal Parliament recently endorsed the Bill to amend (first) the Senior Citizenship Act-2006 and the government hopes the document will be a milestone in terms of ensuring quality care for senior citizens and keeping their dignity intact.

The local government is preparing to own all the responsibilities of senior citizens bearing in mind the increasing culture of children denying taking proper care of their ageing parents and sending them to old-age home after ensuring their stake on the parental property.

The recent amendment to the Senior Citizens Act has the special provision that enables the local government to ensure its ownership to property owned by senior citizens if they are dependent on the local government instead of their children.

Children shall be denied their rights to parental property if they refuse to take up their all sorts of responsibilities and the provision is expected to be helpful in restoring dignity of neglected parents, changing the society’s perception and treatment towards ageing population and in building a civilized and just society. In overall it is said to be for the enhancement of the rights of senior people with the catering of quality care and respect, making the family and local government properly responsible towards senior citizens.

The Bill has now been presented to the Head of the State for certification and RSS feature news chief Krishna Adhikari and correspondent Sharmila Pathak had interviewed Minister for Women, Children and Senior Citizens Uma Regmi in regard with it and its special features. The excerpts of the interview are as follows.

How do you take the endorsement of Bill to amend (first) the Senior Citizenship Act by the both houses?
A: The Bill regarding the first amendment to the Act has been already endorsed by the Federal Parliament and with this, children are legally bound to take of senior citizens.

The Bill to amend the Senior Citizens Act, 2006 was passed by the National Assembly in February-March, 2019 and the House of Representatives passed it on July 20.

The Bill had made children legally obliged to fulfill their responsibilities towards the parents. It seems that children consider aged parents as a burden and prefer to send them old-age home. It was highly needed to intervene in such practice and create a comfortable space for senior citizens. It was urgent to come up with provision capable making children legally obliged to take after their old parents.

In the Nepalese society, children ensure their claims to parental property this or that way. But now the trend of sending dependent parents to elderly homes is on the rise. “We hope the document will be a stone one for protecting the rights of senior citizens and keeping their dignity intact.”

What do you want to say senior citizens regarding implementation of the bill?
Do not give property to children who do not take care of you in old-age. Make the one who protects you as the owner of your property whatever you have. Every senior citizen is free to handover their property whom they want or who look after them. It is not necessary to inform children about the property they have earned. We will not let allow the situation where no one senior citizen should be left without proper care from their children or property claimant. Local level can take property upon its ownership and mobilize it for the benefit of such senior citizens if such situation occurs. None of the senior citizen will have to feel loneliness or helpless. The state will provide guardianship to the senior citizens.

You said that the bill has made significant provisions regarding senior citizens, what are some notable provisions?
The bill has made family members responsible towards their parents as educated people in the society also leave their parents in old-age home. The bill has specially described about the family. The issue of making responsible to the children towards their elderly parents has been incorporated. The bill has clearly mentioned that any next of kin can take responsibility of senior citizens if their children do not take care of them but the state has to take responsibility of such elderly persons if there is no situation to maintaining and taking care of such senior citizens. The bill has tried to make not only family responsible, but also the neighbours. Neighbours should inform local level if they know about the misbehavior or any type of violence upon elderly person in any family. All should pay attention to utilize skill and knowledge of elderly persons as they are gems of the nation.

How and where senior citizens can file complaints about issues they are facing?
Like other citizens, senior citizens can file complaints at judicial committee of the local bodies if their children or other next of kin do not take care of them. The committee can formulate a separate procedure to conduct hearing from fast-track method. Similarly, the bill has also the provision that a separate senior citizen bench can be formed at the consultation of judicial council to see cases of senior citizens.
Senior citizens with sound economic condition are going through various problems without their caretakers. What have you thought about it?
Yes, those senior citizens from financially strong background are forced to live a helpless life without their caretakers.
Many Nepali people have been hired by many foreign countries including Japan to attend to senior citizens there. Now, we will create job opportunities here within our country by employing Nepali people to look after senior citizens. We will launch training for people attending to senior citizens and for this, the process has already started. This will also benefit the state. Nepali people living in foreign countries are ready to remit money for taking care of their elderly parents back home. So, this will implement soon. To resolve problems facing senior citizens, we need to change our thoughts. We should feel like we are living with our parents instead of our parents are living with us.
How children are mandatorily bound to set aside some of their earnings for their parents?
According to this bill, people who are regularly drawing salaries, money in pension and self-employed ones have to deposit certain amounts of money in bank accounts of their parents.
The depositors should furnish deposit details to the respective local level annually. Or the children ignoring the provision will not have a legal right to get ancestral property and the parents depriving of money as per the provision can file a complaint with the organisation their responsible children work for.
For this, one can open a joint bank account for their parents (or separate bank account in case of the separation of parents).
On the matter of senior citizens, in the bill, it seems local levels are held more responsible. Are they capable to effectively implement these provisions?
Local government will be held responsible once the bill becomes act after its authentication.
Local level will run a senior citizen reconciliation center. Similarly, it will manage a day care center and accommodation for senior citizens. They have to run awareness programmes for senior citizens regarding the bill. To this effect, the line ministry will issue directives to all local levels.
On the matter of senior citizens, in the bill, it seems local levels are held more responsible. Are they capable to effectively implement these provisions?
Local government will be held responsible once the bill becomes act after its authentication.
Local level will run a senior citizen reconciliation center. Similarly, it will manage a day care center and accommodation for senior citizens. They have to run awareness programmes for senior citizens regarding the bill. To this effect, the line ministry will issue directives to all local levels.
The government from this year has reduced the age eligible for the old-age allowance from 70 years to 68 years. How easy do you see its implementation is going to be?
The present government is highly liberal towards teh cause of teh senior citizens. The government has decreased the eligible age for getting the old-age allowance in this fiscal year’s budget. We have reduced the age for old-age allowance by two years for now as distributing it at 70 years which is the average life expectancy is not really going to be effective. Although there is provision of distributing the old-age allowance from 65 years of age as per the international practice, we are not in a position to do the same in Nepal now. However, arrangements would be made soon to provide the old-age allowance at 65 years of age.
What about the plan to construct a separate hospital for the older citizens?
The work related to preparing the DPR for building a seperate hospital with 50 beds for the senior citizens has been completed. Since a single hospital is not going to be sufficient for them, discussions are on regarding constructing hospial for teh senior citizens at other places besides Gothatar. A shelter house will also be constructed along with the hospital at Gothatar. The Ministry is making preparation for shifting all the senior citizens sheltering at the Pashupati Old-age Home to Gothatar once the construction works there are completed. Solution should not be sought by keeping the older people in the old-age homes. Since old-age home is not teh solution, an environment should be created at home so that the senior citizens will not have to be taken to the old-age homes for shelter. The home is the plce where the heart is for the older persons and their offspring should acknowledge this and realise their duties and responsibilities to the older citizens.
Have you anything more to say in the end?
The Bill has provisions for making the home the ‘heaven’ for the senior citizens. Although the Bill has madeprovisions for providing concession to teh senior citizens in public trnsport and other services, this is not fully implemented. We have issued circular to the Ministry concerned to facilitate in this. We have tried to make the offspring themselves responsible. It is the government’s intention that the senior citizens should not be left in the lurch if their offspring do not want to take up the responsibility of taking care of their elderly parents. Therefore, I urge one and all to look after and take care of their parents realising that they themselves will become old like their parents in future.

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