An age-old problemOur senior citizens deserve better
Adjacent to a perpetually reeking public toilet constructed by the Pashupati Area Development Trust, the government-run old age home—the Pashupati Briddhashram —continues to age in neglect. For many of its 160 senior citizens—crammed into tiny rooms and deprived of regular health services—this ramshackle building is all that’s left. And it’s hard to find solace elsewhere. As highlighted in a recently released report by the National Human Rights Commission, many of Nepal’s government-funded senior citizen homes continue to operate at substandard conditions—or, alarmingly, do not operate at all. A recently released report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found that a majority of elderly day-care centres that receive government and donor support exist only on paper. According to Kimananda Basyal, a member of the NHRC team, an estimated 10 percent of the total number of care centres that exist in the country are ‘potentially fake’. Prakash Osti, who led the research team, told the Post that a large number of elderly homes, which only care for a few senior citizens, are operating with a singular purpose: reap financial benefits.
It’s easy to conclude that a lack of finances led to this lamentable fate for senior citizens, but financial dearth is not the issue here. Over the years, the state has significantly increased its budget allocation for senior citizens. The Ministry of Urban Development, the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens and the Ministry of Finance collectively allocate over Rs. 280 million to senior citizens, elderly homes and day-care centres—a significant increase from allocations in the previous fiscal year. While these funds represent a substantial amount of money for a demographic that genuinely requires the support, the money trail has been hard to retrace given that respective district officials are the ones disbursing the money. The ministries responsible need to regain control of the money management process at every financial juncture by implementing an effective monitoring and evaluation mechanism to ensure that the finances dispersed in the name of ‘senior citizens’ are used for the right purposes. The state must direct its attention towards implementing an effective monitoring and evaluation mechanism to guarantee that all government-funded homes are meeting the living conditions and services its occupants deserve. The government’s inconsistent periodical reviews of its care centres have been inadequate and ‘fake centres’ have clearly been capitalising on their failure to follow their money through. Regular reviews—conducted by a monitoring body from multiple stakeholder backgrounds—need to be established as basic protocol. In addition, according to NHRC Commissioner Prakash Wasti and human rights officer Gita Kumari Dahal, a fundamental requirement is also to ensure that old age homes are supplied with trained geriatric professionals and trained volunteers who can conduct periodical activities that cater to the mental and emotional health needs of the elderly.
This situation has only highlighted the fact that budget allocation, which has clearly been mismanaged and taken advantage of by various actors hoping to also cash in on the nationwide neglect of senior citizens, is not enough to safeguard basic human rights. The elderly are not a commodity to cash in on.