Housing for the elderly

June 6, 2021

“Parental Protection Ordinance 2021” promulgated last month by Dr Arif Alvi guarantees some housing rights to senior citizens but merits critical engagement

“I was living with my elder son in a posh area in Lahore for the past several years. After my son’s death, the property went to his wife; and my younger son was living in poor conditions so he shifted me to a shelter home in a nearby area,” recalls Shahida Siddiqui, the grief and pain visible in her face.

She is a 70-year-old widow and mother of three, has been living in an old-age shelter home in the capital city – Islamabad – for the past few months. Her daughter, well-off and living in a posh locality in Rawalpindi, has barred her from entering the house.

“Ms Siddiqui remains quiet the most of the time. We have hardly seen her talking to other women,” Muhammad Waqas, who administers this shelter home tells The News on Sunday.

While he appreciates efforts of the government in bringing laws to protect housing rights of the elderly, he maintains that this is not solution to the problem. He is referring to “Parental Protection Ordinance 2021” promulgated last month by Dr Arif Alvi, the President of Pakistan. The law assures that “parents would have the protection of residing in their houses even if their siblings are owners of houses or they have rented them out.”

Waqas explains why such initiatives while well-intentioned do not make for a holistic approach.

“First, it is responsibility of the state to protect senior citizens; and secondly if state is unable to protect senior citizens’ rights there is need to create an environment and educate society to sensitise them on this matter,” he suggests.

He recalls in the past few three years only four women were repatriated to their families. “In most cases, sadly, children and families never look back,” he adds.

The law appears to be a great hope for many old parents. Ms Siddiqui, who is living in Bint-e-Fatima shelter home in the capital city, has not heard from her daughter yet despite the passing of several weeks. It was her grandson who helped her in reaching this shelter home. Her son is in touch with her, and has promised to take her back soon.

According to reported data compiled by the Ministry of Human Rights, 25.2 percent of parents in Islamabad have experienced physical assault by their children while 31.8 percent elderly men and 16.7 percent elderly women experience mistreatment by their own children. In the provinces, 14.7 percent of parents have experienced oppressive behaviour from their own children in Balochistan; Sindh follows next with 8.2 percent, Punjab at 6.1 percent and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at 2.4 percent.

The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees equal rights to all citizens. In this vein, it also guarantees fundamental rights for the elderly. It is duty of the state to provide protection, either directly or by means of institutions established to provide financial assistance to senior citizens.

The welfare of senior citizens is becoming an increasingly significant challenge given that according to some reports, Pakistan’s elderly population has crossed the figure of 14 million and is likely to be double by 2030 and close to 40 million by 2050.

Several aspects of this new ordinance, however, merit critical engagement. The ordinance states that in the cases where the ownership rights vest with parents, they could ask their children to vacate houses. After receiving a notice, the children would be bound to vacate the house. In case of failure to vacate the house on time, they would have to undergo 30-day imprisonment or pay fine or face both punishments. More disturbingly, under the ordinance, the police can make arrests without warrants in these cases; while both parents and their children have been given the right to appeal. As per the ordinance ousting parents from home will be a punishable offense and those found guilty “may face a prison term up to one year or fine, or both”.

Pakistan in the past has taken some positive steps in the form of legislation for protection of the rights of older people at federal and provincial level. At national level, earlier in 2019, the government passed a law “The Maintenance of Old Parents and Senior Citizen Act” for the capital territory. The Act suggested establishment of a commission with a variety of assignments and tasks to be carried out for the welfare of senior citizens like formulating policies for senior citizens. At the provincial level, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has a Senior Citizen Act 2014 considered as the first such legislation for the rights of elderly people in Pakistan. Sindh passed such a law in 2016 and followed by Balochistan in 2017. Punjab has developed the 2013 Senior Citizens Welfare and Rehabilitation Bill which, in addition to promoting social security, healthcare, housing and the provision of support for disability and emergency, promotes the participation of senior citizens in all spheres of life without age barriers.

The welfare of senior citizens is becoming an increasingly significant challenge given that according to some reports, Pakistan’s elderly population has crossed the figure of 14 million and is likely to be double by 2030 and close to 40 million by 2050. Yet, it is important to press for a holistic approach that can create just conditions and cultivate social harmony.

A study titled “Moving from the margins: Promoting and protecting the rights of older persons in Pakistan” says that the country is one of 15 countries worldwide with over ten million older people. It is estimated that currently seven percent of the population (about 14 million) is over 60 years old. The study conducted by the British Council and HelpAge International is the first of its kind using a human rights lens while focusing on the state of elderly citizens in Pakistan.

The study finds that the senior citizens’ rights to an adequate standard of livings; right to social protection; right to social care; right to dignity and protection are at risk and compromised to an extent.

The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]   Twitter: @waqargillani

Housing for the elderly