akistan is among a select group of 15 nations globally that have a population of older individuals exceeding 10 million. The current estimate suggests that approximately seven percent of the total population, which amounts to approximately 14 million, is 60 years of age or older. The increasing life expectancy in Pakistan has led to a greater percentage of elderly people, both male and female, residing in the country. This demographic shift raises important questions regarding the role of agencies, the provision of care and the empowerment of older individuals in various sectors of the society.
The constitution aims to secure the well-being of everybody irrespective of sex, caste, creed and race. The National Strategy of 1999 was a significant milestone as an initial stratagem to prioritise the well-being of the elderly population.
Pakistan became a party to the United Nations’ Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, which was established by the Second World Assembly on Ageing in April 2002. Following its ratification, the government of Pakistan formulated substantial policies aimed at safeguarding the rights and promoting the well-being of senior individuals. In 2004, the government of Pakistan implemented a specific programme aimed at addressing the requirements of elderly Pakistani citizens. The primary objective of this initiative was to assure the fulfilment of fundamental life necessities and to promote their inclusion and respect within the society.
At the provincial level, governments have undertaken legislation to establish a comprehensive framework of rights for elderly residents. In this instance, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa enacted the Senior Citizens Act in 2014. This was followed by introduction in Sindh and Balochistan of the Senior Citizens Welfare Bill and the Senior Citizen Bill in 2016 and 2017, respectively. A draft bill has been formulated in the Punjab but has yet to receive approval. The main objectives of these measures encompass the provision of healthcare services, financial assistance, housing accommodation and the establishment of a welfare fund for senior citizens.
The Islamabad Capital Territory Senior Citizen Act, 2021, was promulgated by the government of Pakistan with the aim of establishing a fund to support the welfare, comfort, and dignity of senior citizens residing in the Islamabad Capital Territory. The law is in line with Pakistan’s international obligations as a member of the United Nations. These include adherence to the UN Principles for Older Persons and the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. Under this law, the Ministry of Human Rights is mandated to establish a governing body called the Senior Citizens Council. The council will consist of 12 members. The minister for human rights shall serve as its chairperson. Other members of the council will be selected from Pakistan Bar Council, Pakistan Bait-ul Maal, Finance Division, Human Rights Division, National Health Services and other regulatory bodies. The council is authorised to exercise the authority and fulfil the functions required to effectively implement the objectives outlined in this legislation. Authority is conferred upon the council to establish and sustain facilities for the elderly, referred to as Dar-ul Shafqat, which serve as accessible residences for financially disadvantaged senior citizens in Islamabad. This legislation also bestows various benefits upon senior citizens, such as the issuance of a Senior Citizen Card, retirement benefits, methods for sustaining their livelihood and procedures for property transfer.
The council is mandated to establish a Senior Citizens Fund and a grievance committee. These provisions aim to cater to the financial requirements of senior citizens and provide a platform for addressing their complaints. Under the law, parents incapable of financially sustaining themselves through their own income or personal assets may submit an application of maintenance against a lawful successor, who will receive the property upon the parents’ demise. Additional advancements encompass specific concessions in relation to the transfer of property for elderly individuals, retirement perks, aid for financially disadvantaged citizens, such as the creation of eldercare facilities, and the organisation of a committee to address the grievances of senior persons.
People are eligible for a Senior Citizen Card upon reaching the age of sixty. This card bestows upon its holders a range of exclusive benefits, such as complimentary access to public museums, libraries, parks and recreational facilities. It also entitles them to use of express lanes, receive financial assistance, access medical services and enjoy specified privileges at government hospitals. Meeting the necessary standards within the legal framework renders individuals eligible for several benefits, such as discounts on purchase of medicines, reduced domestic travel expenses and exemption from income tax obligations.
Pakistan has made notable progress in the process of enacting legislation pertaining to the rights and welfare of senior citizens at the governmental level. Nonetheless, disparities exist in the execution of these regulations at the public level, alongside a deficiency in information dissemination. Despite the prevalent cultural emphasis on profound reverence towards the old, the enduring challenges associated with ageism exist. The absence of knowledge of the behaviour patterns associated with the ageing process contributes to instances of abuse and violence against elderly individuals within domestic settings as well. This has also been catered to by the Protection of Parents Ordinance 2021. The legislation pertaining to senior citizens represents a commendable endeavour.
The writer is an advocate of the high court and visiting faculty at the Bahria University. She is also an honorary vice president of the Centre for Rule of Law, Islamabad