Celebrating children and elders | Daily News

Celebrating children and elders

Today, we celebrate the Yin and Yang of Life: Children and Elders. It is the children of today who become the elders of tomorrow. On the International Day of Older Persons and International Children’s Day which fall today, we have to focus on issues affecting both segments. (Note that many countries now celebrate Children’s Day on November 20 to focus solely on children). But there is nothing wrong in celebrating these two facets of life together, as Sri Lanka does.

Almost 700 million people worldwide are now over the age of 60. By 2050, two billion people, over 20 per cent of the world’s population, will be 60 or older. The increase in the number of older people will be the greatest and the most rapid in the developing world, with Asia as the region with the largest number of older persons.

With this in mind, enhanced attention to the particular needs and challenges faced by many older people is clearly required. Just as important, however, is the essential contribution the majority of older men and women can continue to make to the functioning of society if adequate guarantees are in place. If our ambition is to, as the UN slogans say, “Leave No One Behind” and “Build the Future We Want”, the Nations of the World must address the population over 60 which is expected to reach 1.4 billion by 2030.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are nearly two billion children in the world (27% of world population). In 2050 there will still be an estimated two billion children, but they will be only 20% of world population as youth and elders take over. Many children the world over suffer from issues such as child labour, lack of educational opportunities, sexual and physical abuse, poverty, sickness, displacement as a result of climate change or conflict and malnutrition.

Here in Sri Lanka, the population above the age of 60 years was 2.5 million in 2012. Projections show that Sri Lanka would have an elderly population of about 3.6 million by 2021 and by 2041, one-quarter of the population would be elders. The total child population is estimated at 4.5 million. The Index of Aging, an indicator used to measure structural shift of the aged population in relation to child population, takes into account the number of aged persons of 60 years and above per 100 children under age 15. In 2015, there were 49 elderly persons per 100 children under age 15. This is more than a twofold increase from 19 in 1981.

From these statistics it is clear that we have to focus even more on the elderly population. Ageing is a global issue. Much of the global longevity revolution is down to falling infant death rates. People are simply living longer today thanks to medical advances (including artificial organs), better healthcare facilities, a generally better quality of life and effective support services for the elderly. In fact, scientists believe that the first person to live to 150 years has already been born somewhere in the world. With anti-ageing medicines, surgical implants of every kind and much better living conditions, it is not far off the mark.

Old people tend to have a worse quality of life in poor countries, but in a recent survey on “where to grow old gracefully”, Sri Lanka was placed 25th out of the 96 countries surveyed, which is the best in South Asia. Sri Lanka has scored very well in terms of three sub-indicators – social connectivity, safety and civic freedom. The Government pension scheme has been one reason for the relatively independent nature of many elderly persons.

The biggest obstacle for older people seems to be the lack of opportunities in many societies. With younger job seekers applying pressure from the bottom end of the employment ladder, there is often no gainful employment for the elderly once they retire from a formal job. If they have some sort of productive work, they can be more financially secure regardless of whether they have a pension or not. And with technology such as telecommuting, they need not report to an office for work, thus reducing any mobility problems. A recent German study found that, properly looked after, the old could be a boon to societies – a source of wisdom and experience in the workplace and elsewhere.

Most societies have been slow to embrace the positive aspects of longevity and to see older people as a resource. If that is accomplished, elderly people will have extended working careers as well as more self-reliant, healthy and independent living. Most people are able to work till 70 and should be given that chance, at least in vocations that do not demand excessive physical exertion.

Many countries, including Sri Lanka, have to grapple with the problem of a rapidly ageing population whose needs have to be met amidst various constraints. Science will only have some of the answers - Governments and societies have to find answers to the other questions posed by the rise of the silver generation. 


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