Infrastructure for elders’ care | Daily News

National Elders’ Day 2019

Infrastructure for elders’ care

Coordination is a key requirement to achieve success in any programme. It is, as we generally say, vertical and horizontal for any activity.

In coordination, we have to identify our stakeholders. For instance, for the National Consultation on Elders’ Rights for a United Nations (UN) Convention, our stakeholders happen to be the Human Rights Commission Of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the Ministry of Justice, the UN’s contact point in Sri Lanka, followed by the Ministry of Social Welfare and its key institutions, such as the National Council for the Older Persons, the Department of Social Services, the Social Security Council, the National Council for the Disabled People, the National Institute of Social Development, and the Department of Probation and Child Care and Probation Officers.

Beside these key stakeholders, we have the professionals who are involved in relevant matters regarding the elderly. Then, there are the voluntary organizations headed by HelpAge Sri Lanka, which was established in 1988 with the support of HelpAge International in London. This organization is mainly devoted to services to the needy elderly in Sri Lanka. HelpAge Sri Lanka is an important advisor to the National Council in policy formulation as well. Some of these institutions for the elderly have over a hundred years of experience and are based on religious organizations. Then we have the line ministries and their allied institutions, such as the Finance Ministry, Health Ministry, the Education and National Integration Ministries, Cultural Affairs and Youth Affairs Ministries, the Ministry of Trade, Ministry of Information, and the Ministry of Local Government. The next most important is the media, and one must not forget the academia.

Coming to the subject direct, if you review the progress of the legislation for elders, we can landmark one of the earliest; the Jennings Commission Report Sessional Paper, which recommended legal provisions for the benefit of poor people, including beggars who consisted of elderly people who were in distress—some of whom had been thrown out of estates. The next landmark legislation is Act No.09 of 2000 for the Protection of the Rights of Elders. This Act has a history in preparation for the World Assembly for Ageing in Vienna, Austria. In 1982, Sri Lanka also formed a National Committee for ageing. It was the nucleus for far-reaching policies for the welfare of the elderly. This National Committee consisted of Director Social Services, Chairman ex-officio, and distinguished reputed social workers representing all religions.

After our representation at the World Assembly, although Sri Lanka did not have a serious problem of elders, at that time, we were inspired to promote humanitarian and developmental programmes for the elderly. As a result, the subject gathered momentum.

Although we did not have a specific policy for elders, since then, we coordinated activities closely with the UN and its agencies in Sri Lanka, as well as internationally. The International Day for the Elderly and various other programmes became annual events where most of the stakeholders, which are mentioned here, including the elderly themselves, actively participated in many events for their own benefits.

The Ministry of Social Services, the Department of Social Services, and the National Committee for Ageing, for nearly 20 years, involved themselves in formulating policies for the elderly with a national seminar, with the participation of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) mission headed by the Regional Advisor Policy and Planning.

Later, the UN ESCAP mission report was with recommendations for the formulation of an Elders Policy for Sri Lanka. It was presented to then President D.B. Wijethunga, who was pleased with it. And in principle, Cabinet accepted the proposals for the formulation of a policy for the elders in Sri Lanka, and it was advised that the concerned ministries should manage with the available finances.

However, it was a positive beginning as accepted by the State. There onward, with the support of the various stakeholders, the Ministry of Social Services and HelpAge Sri Lanka was successful in formulating the Policy for Elders, which culminated in the unanimous approval by Parliament the Act No.09 of 2000 for the Protection of the Rights of Elders in Sri Lanka. Under the Act, the National Council was created and the members are appointed by the President. The salient aspects of the Act are the Council; a Secretariat headed by a Director who is also the Secretary of the council ex-officio Director of Social Council, as well as the Maintenance Board, to settle complaints of elders who have not been taken care of by their children.

As the subject of social service is devolved, the Provincial Councils implement the policies formed by the National Council; and in the Districts all over the country, there are nearly 10,000 village committees of elders formed under the Act assisted by the Secretariat.

One could imagine how important effective coordination is in this setup of thousands of organizations, various authorities, at the grassroot level and institutions and so on, to see to the welfare of the elders in Sri Lanka. It is encouraging that the State has given priority and recognition to this aspect with the active participation of elders.

This year, the National Festival for Elders is held on the International Day for Elders on October 1 in Anuradhapura, where much coordination is pursued among the concerned elders represented from the elders committees from all over the country with the necessary patronage of the media.

Dr. Leel Gunasekara,
Senior Advisor,
HelpAge Sri Lanka Executive Member,
Social Service National Compensation Committee for Elders


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