Khin Maung Myint
The United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) and most countries recognized persons over sixty years of age as elderlies. As for our country, I presume that seventy is the number, judging by the fact that the age of eligibility to get admitted to the homes and the day care centers for aged are set at seventy. I have no objection to that, as I assume the sixties are still active and capable of fending for themselves, but the seventies are starting to get frail, so that is the right choice.
In some countries, the elderlies or the senior citizens enjoy some privileges that help to eradicate or ease the pains of the miseries and distresses of aging. Old age is the time when you realize that not only your health is declining, but also your authority and hence your prestige, usefulness to the society, ability, respectability, agility and memory, etc, are starting to wane. By then, you may or may not realize that you are becoming burdensome, not only to your family, but also to the society. Such situations lead one to become more distressful and misery sets in.
The above statement may not be true for every senior citizens. Those who are healthily, wealthy, stress-free and anxiety-free can age gracefully and may be spared from those woes. However, such privileged or fortunate persons may account for a very small percentage of the senior citizen population in any country.
We must bear in mind that these elderly persons are once energetic, industrious and most of them had served in various capacities and had contributed much to the society and the country, in one way or the other, during their younger days. Thus they shouldn’t be ignored or neglected when they are unable to fend for themselves and have no dependents to rely on and are in dire need of help. I had seen many elderly persons, including pensioners, begging on the streets of Yangon.
Many people of all ages in our country are living under the poverty line. As for the younger people they could overcome that situation if given the opportunities, that is job opportunities. As for the elderlies, though they may want to work they do not have the energy and even if they have that, they don’t have the chance due to the age criteria set for job appointments. Today there are many who are living a meager existence and some are even starving.
I understand that in some developed countries, they grant elderly pensions to the senior citizens. As for our country the state alone may not be able to afford to provide every needy elders all the things they might need, thus the civil societies and individual donors need to pitch in their support. Even in the developed countries the roles of the civil societies and individual donors are vital.
Recent news of the Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Ministry’s proposal to the Hlutaw to grant elderly stipends or pensions to those who are 90 and above, is very welcoming. Though I have nothing to say concerning the amount, I would like to suggest the age criteria set is a bit high, given the estimated life expectancy of our citizens. Our life expectancy ranking is 126 in the world with 64.5 for males, 68.5 for females and 66.6 overall average, according to the WHO rankings published in 2015. (We are behind Cambodia and Laos.)
Very few people would live up to the ripe old age of 90, thus I hope that criteria would be relaxed somewhat. Anyhow, something is better than nothing. We must be content with whatever the outcome of that proposal might be. Here, my opinion, based on my logic is,: longevity depends on wealth, health, foods, lifestyles and the enviroment. Thus apart from the monetary support, necessary arrangements, such as: free healthcare, free shelters and free foods—the most basic needs of all the destitute—should also be considered depending on the availability of the funds.
Here, I would like to mention about the elderly or old age pensions in Australia. According to some friends, who migrated there in their late fifties, once they became citizens they were entitled to the elderly pension when they reached the prescribed age. Although I didn’t ask how much they are getting, I learned from a friend of mine that the pensions he and his wife are receiving are enough for them to live without any financial worries and had no need to depend on their children. He added that they could even save enough money to travel the world. They had visited Myanmar many times and had been to England to visit friends and relatives there.
Another noteworthy fact is that a couple, who are old friends of mine are now staying at a nursing home in Australia.The nursing home charges money to cover the expenses incurred for looking after them. However, my friends don’t have to worry as their old age pensions easily cover the costs, even leaving enough for them as pocket money. I am not suggesting that the same must be introduced here, but just citing them as good examples. However, hopefully, when our country is well developed and become prosperous this would become a reality.
At this juncture, I would like to discuss other privileges the senior citizens are enjoying in other countries, including some of our neighbours. Even casual foreign travellers to those countries are entitled to some of the basic privileges. To cite some such basic privileges, there are separate lanes to queue at the airport immigration passport inspection counters, priority seats at the departure lounges, separate toilets at almost every public places, concession rates or exemptions from entrance fees to the national parks and some other places of interests and many more, for the elderlies.
The elderlies are treated equally with the sanghas, clergypersons of other faiths, the disabled, the pregnant women, the infants and are given priority in boarding the planes at Thai air ports. They are allowed to board the planes ahead of other passengers after the sanghas, clergies, disabled, infants and pregnant women. Thus they are spared from being pushed or elbowed by unruly passengers, who would scramble to board the plane as though they would miss the flight.
In conclusion, I would like to request the authorities concerned to educate our people to show regards and respect towards the elderlies. Although, some used to boast that the Myanmars are the most polite and generous people in the world, I had been experiencing disregards and dis-respects shown to me by strangers on the streets and other public places. No one bothered to give up their seats on the crowded buses or trains in Yangon, but I had been offered seats, many a time on the Sky Trains in Bangkok, very polite and generous gestures, which are really praiseworthy. Our new generations should show more regards and respects towards the elderlies as most of us had contributed much to the society and the country in our younger days. They should be mindful that seventy plus counts.