The National Assembly (NA) on November 22 endorsed nine of the ten recommendations that the social and cultural committee presented to improve the wellbeing of the elderly people in the country.

The committee’s chairperson and MP Kuenga, said it is crucial to understand the changes happening in the lives of the elderly citizens. “It is important to address the challenges they face, promote positive ageing, and bring improvement to their lives.”

It was recommended to design policies and programmes to preserve and promote the institutions of extended family system and community life so that elderly citizens continue to enjoy social protection within them.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said including legal obligations for children and family to look after their aged parents in the first recommendation, it is like the children are forcefully given the responsibility. “If the children are taught the importance of regarding and respecting their elders from the young age, the legal obligation is not required.”

He said that it was important that children and parents genuinely had high regard and respect for their elders. He recommended that social and spiritual values to be included in the cultural values.

The recommendation six concerns promoting social, culture, and spiritual values by all stakeholder, including Dratshang Lhengtshog, education and training institutes, government, and private agencies.

MP Kuenga said the fifth recommendation about introducing old age pension scheme or system of tax rebate was cancelled because as some of the MPs suggested it could be included in the first recommendation.

He said the committee submitted the report to the house for deliberation to fulfill the provision of the constitution and to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of leaving no one behind. “We are also mindful of our own age-old tradition and culture of securing the future of our elderly parents in the hands of our children. Only then shall our pursuit of Gross National Happiness will be accomplished in true spirit.”

In 2005, the number of elderly people of age 60 years and above was 44,319, which was 6.98 percent of the total population. In 2015, about 7.8 percent of the total population were elderly people.

According to the National Statistics Bureau, of the total population of 768,577 in 2016, the aging population is 56,827. This is projected to increase to 58,804 in 2017 out of a total population of 779,666.

“With these growth rate Bhutan is expected to have the largest increase in longevity within 25 years from 65 years life span in 2005 to 75 years life span in 2030,” MP Kuenga said.

Bhutan’s life expectancy at birth in 2015 was 69.83. Male life expectancy was 69.57, and female 70.11.

Education Minister Norbu Wangchuk said issues related to old age population were one of the greatest challenges faced in the developed countries.

Lyonpo said Bhutanese had high regard and respect for the elders. “But with change in time, we see a few cases related to old age issues in the country so it’s important to be prepared to address the challenges. Some of the recommendations are underway, while some are in plans and a few needs to be started.”

Strengthening the geriatric care in Basic Health Units and hospitals, redefining and promoting the complementary functions of the existing tripartite social protection system like family care and support system and formal social security schemes, providing homes to those elderly persons without children or abandoned in their own villages or communities close to a Lhakhang under the care of a Lam and a health professionals, are some of the recommendations.

The committee also recommended providing leisure space in urban areas and ensuring that public space and facilities have proper access suitable for old and disabled person, extending privileged and concessions to the elderly in public service centre’s and institutions such as transport, banks, and health centres, and providing training for special care giver.

Speaker Jigme Zangpo urged executive, legislative, and judiciary to consider the well-being of the elderly when framing policies.

The house will continue to review the policy.