Meeting demographic change
Sri Lanka ageing faster:
Sri Lanka ranks as a country with a rapidly ageing population. Life
expectancy, which was 46 years in 1946, increased to 70 years in 1981,
then to 74 years in 2005 and is expected to rise up to 80 years within
the next 2 decades. This dramatic demographic transmission has created
changes in the population age structure. There is a marked increase of
the elderly population, compared to younger ages and this is found to be
a notable phenomenon.
Sri Lanka, has a population ageing faster than in other countries in
the region; and by 2031 it is estimated that around 5.1 million people
in this country would be elderly.
Population projections show that the proportion of the elderly
population (60 years and over), who constitute 10 percent of the age
structure in 2001, will continue to rise by 2021 to 17 percent of the
population. The increase in the elderly population will have a
tremendous impact on the labour force and other social-sector welfare
Self-employed elders boost national economy in their own way.
The old=age dependency ratio reflects a significant increase from 5.9
percent in 1996 to 7.4 per cent in 1997 and to 12.3 percent by 2011; and
it is projected that this rate should increase up to 17.0 percent by
2021, resulting in the need for the provision of social security to
Population ageing necessitates Government intervention through the
formulation of a national policy action plan and special programs.
National Committee on Ageing was set up in 1982 and a policy document
on Ageing and older persons was submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers.
An action plan was also prepared, based on the policy guidelines.
However, the operations of the National Committee did not go smoothly
until 1991. After 1991, the National Committee was reactivated and
several new programs were formulated.
The introduction of legislation for the Protection of the Rights of
Elders, Act No. 9 of 2000, is a breakthrough in the history of elderly
This Act has provided for a National Council on Ageing with powers to
advise the Government on the promotion of the welfare and rights of
The National Council can recommend programs to the Government and
appropriate parties to strengthen family units based on the traditional
values of Sri Lanka.
The other function of the Council would be to take all such measures
as are necessary, in consultation with the relevant Ministries,
Provincial and Local authorities, Districts and Divisional Secretariats,
as well as religious institutions, NGOs and private-sector
organizations, to promote and protect the welfare and rights of the
The Council provides due publicity, through all proper means, for the
findings of studies and research, in order to make the public aware of
the problems, needs and aspirations of the elderly.
It can also introduce and implement a health-insurance benefit scheme
for the elderly and maintain and coordinate programs and schemes
initiated and implemented by the government and voluntary organizations
for the upliftment of the status of the elderly. Introduction of various
programs to prepare the younger generation to confront old age with
confidence and courage, as well as to initiate proper social-security
schemes and encourage the younger generation to subscribe to such
schemes, is also the function of the Council.
The salient feature in the Protection of the Rights of Elders Act No.
9 of 2000 is that children shall not wilfully neglect their parents, and
is the duty and responsibility of children to provide care and to look
into the needs of their parents. In terms of Section 15 (2) of the Act,
the State shall provide proper residential facilities to destitute
elders who are without children.
Another important factor in the act, in terms of 24 (1), is that
there shall be appointed for the purpose of this Act, one or more Boards
for the determination of claims for the maintenance by elders.
According to the Section 15 (3) of the Act, no elders shall, on
account of their age, be subject to any liability, restriction or
condition with regard to access to or use of any building or place or
institute which any other persons have access or are entitled to use,
whether or not on payment of any fee.
The Act has provision for any person or organization, voluntary or
otherwise, that is engaged in providing services or assistance in any
form, or manner to elders either directly or through any institution, to
register under this Act.
By 1992, Social Services and the National Committee on Ageing
Department had formulated a National Policy along with a Plan of Action.
The objective of the National Policy was “to give leadership and
policy initiatives to create a healthy environment for older persons
within the cultural norms and religious practices.”
The National Policy of the Government at that point was to provide
social, economic, physical, mental and spiritual security to all
citizens in their old age.
In accordance with the UN principles on older persons, this policy
was further expanded in 1998/1999.
The National Policy on older persons envisages to prepare the
population for a productive and fulfilling life at old age socially,
economically, physically and spiritually; and to ensure independence,
participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity for those in old age.
Active ageing programs
Action was taken to establish Elders Committees throughout the
island. Currently about 10,000 village level committees and 90
divisional level committees have been established. As mentioned in the
Madrid Plan of Action, the aim of forming these committees is to get the
participation of elders in decision making process and provide
opportunities and support to participate in economic, social, cultural
and life long learning programs.
The members of these organizations of elderly persons are being
trained and educated in reviewing their programs by themselves. 223 Day
centres have been established for the elders to carry out Active ageing
programs including medical, religious, spiritual, cultural and income