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The present generation’s adult children have to deal with two categories of dependents—aged parents and children, finds a NSB study

An ageing population brings up issues of associated vulnerabilities, social and income insecurities. This raises questions as to why the government shouldn’t come up with old age homes.

Bhutanese families have started to shrink and have fewer children unlike in the past, according to a National Statistics Bureau’s (NSB) research. Adult children do not co-reside with their parents. These changes, according to the study, pose important challenges to family-based old age care and support system.

“The increased migration related to education and employment opportunities were resulting in fewer adult children living with or near their ageing parents,” it stated.

The Constitution necessitates the State to secure the integrity of an extended family system and community life. This means, ideally, the situation could be to keep elderly people within the protection of family and community life.

A NSB report stated that the present generation’s adult children are caught in between (double burden) having to deal with two categories of dependents—aged parents and children.

But more emphasis is given to their children, especially due to the need for education.

While the filial obligation and duty of children to their ageing old parents are premised on the customary moral code of tha dhamtshi, and parents are revered as drinchen phama, modernisation and urbanisation have some effects on the traditional social security system.

For instance, in the past, living style was simple as the family sustained on traditional farms that suited the extended family structure; customary code of filial duties was not affected by western ideas of individualism, but rather, community life was vital and the relationship between elderly and younger people was driven by respect.

In contrast, a growing number of urban families have started to find it difficult to render full care and support to their ageing parents for many reasons.

Figures reveal that in 2012, only 45 percent of aged parents lived with their children while 9 percent lived with their relatives. The rest relied on other means of support. “A gradual rise in number of elderly destitute in urban centres may be one of the symptoms of deteriorating family care and support system.”

There was a stark increase in the population of elderly people by 79.48 percent between 2005 and 2017, while the population in the age group 5-24 decreased. It is evident that youth population was shrinking and shifting towards adult group and adult to the older group.

The increase in the age group 60-69 years was 8.42 per cent and 1.59 per cent in the age group 80+.

“Bhutan’s old age dependency ratio had been increasing gradually, and if this trend continues, it may entail higher expenditure on providing care and support to elderly people in the longer-run.”

In terms of social security schemes, 2.61 per cent of the elderly population is NPPF pensioners and other beneficiaries. A majority of elderly people is living in rural areas. In 2005, about 87.34 per cent of them lived in rural areas; 12 per cent lived in urban areas.

The report a also revealed that many elderly people living in rural places were those who were left behind by their adult children who have migrated to urban areas for employment, education and others. Most of these elderly people were compelled to manage the ancestral homes and participate in developmental activities (zhabto woola) despite their old age.

In 2015, Thimphu and Chukha Dzongkhags had the highest proportion of elderly people, indicating some elderly people were also migrating to urban areas.

Poverty rate too was found higher among households headed by persons 65 and above at 14 percent, and 13.3 percent among those households headed by persons aged 55-64 (younger elderly)

The labour force participation rate among the elderly population in 2015 was 63.1 per cent. However, NSB stated that whether the participation of elderly people in hard labour is causing them torment or physical hardship is yet to be studied.

The study also found some indication of elderly peoples’ contributions being undervalued and growing negative perceptions of elderly people among the young. Besides, a growing number of elderly people are reported roaming the streets, communities, and abandoned in hospitals. Some were obliged to struggle through their lives due to loss of their spouses (death or divorce), lack of children, and neglect by children (intentional or unintentional).

The greatest fears and worries of elderly people, the study found was getting terminally ill (and lack of care providers), death, funerals, income deprivation, and food insecurity.

The government during its campaign pledged to build homes for senior citizens’ along the monasteries, sponsor annual pilgrimage to Bodhgaya for senior citizen above 65, provide low cost spectacles and institute allowance for citizen above 70 years and designate special seats in public transport. Special training to health worker to take care of elderly was also one of the pledges.

The study recommended providing shelter to the elderly, promoting access to quality healthcare services and encouraging community-based social welfare mutual support networks.

One of the ways was to adopt Fureai kippu model, a Japanese sectoral currency created in 1995 by the Sawayaka Welfare Foundation so that people could earn credits helping seniors in their community.

For example, if you shop for an elderly woman who no longer has a driver’s license, you get credit for that, based on the kind of service and the number of hours. The users may exchange their accumulated credits for services of other people who might help them when they become sick or elderly themselves. Alternatively, the users may transfer credits to someone else.

The NSB’s such monograph series would be the last one since the Socio-Economic Analysis & Research Division is being dissolved following the organisation development exercise. However, due to lack of proper studies on elderly citizens, the division decided to conduct a detailed study, which could provide baseline information and groundwork.

Interview of an 84-year-old man

I am 84 years old now. My son lives here in the village. He has built a house of his own. I lived with his family, but later he chased me out of the home. I stayed in the forest under rain for months. The rain damaged my blankets and clothes. I felt I would die without proper food and shelter. Later, I made some money by selling oranges. I used this income to build a small hut. I collected pipla and earned money enough [for me] to buy rice and other basic commodities. I survived this way for last three years after my son and his wife threw me out of their family.

In fact, if he knows how to be grateful to me, he owes me a lot. I gave him three acres of wetland and three acres of cardamom land. Through my hard work [when young], I bought land, developed orange orchards, and cultivated cardamom. I gave my assets to this son and two other daughters equally. He wanted every asset of mine; he wanted to deprive his sisters of their inheritance rights. My daughters have left the village with their spouses. They treat me well. But, I don’t understand why my son hates me so much. I think the daughter-in-law is influencing him.

Now even as I live on my own, he tries to torment me. When I get money through the sale of oranges (I have half an acre of orchard), I have to be careful. He and grandsons would come to my house to steal my savings. They did it twice. They would find the money even if I bury it underground. Now I keep money with me even when I take bathe or go to toilet. They stole my oil, sugar and kerosene. The worst is that he threatened me to lash with a rope, and the grandsons tried to beat me. Now it seems they have realised that I am making enough money. They ask me to rejoin their family. But, I will not…never in my life. I am dead for them. I always pray that my son meets the same fate as me!

Source: Understanding the Situation of

Elderly Citizens of Bhutan, NSB

Tshering Dorji

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