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More than 80 percent of the elderly population does not want to live with their children, according to a 2012 baseline survey by the Royal Society for Senior Citizens.

“Some feel that they are an unnecessary burden on their children and others want to escape ill-treatment at the hands of their family,” the baseline survey states. Another study on the Elderly Abuse and Neglect in Thimphu, 2013, found that 24.7 percent said their family members threatened them with an object, 35.3 percent reported as being subjected to verbal abuse and threats, and 10.7 percent reported of being robbed of their property and money.

The Bhutan Vulnerability Baseline Assessment, 2016, identifies the elderly who are in need of support as one of the 14 vulnerable groups. The report defines them as those above 55 years facing major societal, health and economic vulnerabilities emanating as a result of, either being left alone by their children/caretaker or due to improper care being provided to them. “They may be subject to physical abuse and neglect, even when they are living with their children, and this adds to the vulnerabilities being faced by them.”

The assessment states that there is no specific legislation in place to address the needs of elderly persons. “Although a National Pension Scheme does exist, it only covers government employees. As a result, most elderly people are left without any financial assistance or support.”

The report recommends a National Pension Scheme where individuals from the informal, public and private sector can contribute a nominal amount to avail a post retirement pension that can help the elderly to independently stay above the minimal level of subsistence.

The assessment also recommends for deployment of counselors to support the elderly, designing geriatric programme to account for the increasing demographic of elderly, and improving access to basic services such as health and sanitation in and around monastic institutions. “The current practice is also that many elderly people opt to stay in monastic institutions or nearby monastic institutions.”

The elderly in need of support are vulnerable to developing health issues due to advancing age and not having financial resources to avail medical treatment. In the absence of a network of state monitored old age homes, they are faced with social vulnerabilities. “There physical movement may also be restrained by their family members. This leads to a situation where they are closed out from society and from regular interactions with the family.”

According to the report, abandonment, increased migration of children from rural to urban areas leave elderly in a situation where they require support from elsewhere, and physical, psychological and financial abuse faced from children/caretaker causes vulnerabilities in elders.

The report states that the elderly may be willfully abandoned by their families, or may be abandoned due to factors such as scarcity of livelihood opportunities, resource shortage, natural disaster, and migration of the family due to poverty, poor living standards and lack of modern facilities in the village.

Thujay, 78, who came to Thimphu from Trashigang a year ago, expressed his desire to go back to his village although he needs further medical checkup. “I have asked my children to pick me up as I prefer staying in village than in town. I am not happy here.”

Many a times, the report stated that families are forced to leave the elderly people behind because they are too old to make the journey, because the families have no idea about where they will base themselves or simply because the elderly people do not want to leave the village/settlement.

The report also lists absence of immediate or extended family that can take on the role of a caregiver as one of the reasons for abandonment of elders. Kezang Choden, 63, who is unmarried, had lived in a monastery in India until recently when she had to move in with her sister’s daughter because of health issues. “All my other relatives have their own families, and I don’t want to intrude on them.”

Karma Cheki

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