The elderly need protection…need for review of assistance framework systems

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IN any society or community, traditional or modern, old people occupy a very special place; in families, they are advisors; in communities, they also provide guidance and warn the younger generations of the dangers of vice; they warn of impending disasters whether they are associated with the environment or ancestral spirits.
They help bury the dead in their communities and preside over important rituals.
They assist in the maintenance of cultural values in marriages and help in uniting families and settling disputes.
The elderly are repositories of traditional knowledge systems, but the lack of respect for the elderly has relegated them to the periphery of communities — vanaSorojena are no longer respected.
The sight of elderly women running away from the municipal police for illegal vending is common in most of the country’s urban centres.
In the evenings, elderly men in their 70s are seen in front of locked shops or supermarkets, working as security guards.
On the outskirts of most cities and towns, the elderly toil away in the scorching sun, digging in their small plots that yield hardly enough grain to feed them and their dependents.
Similar scenarios are also common at dumping sites where elderly people scavenge for anything of value for resell to raise money to buy food.
Reports of murder and rape of old people in these small fields have been handled by the police and reported in newspapers.
These old people, well past working age, are forced to continue working to supplement their meager pension payouts.
The economic meltdown experienced in the country over the past decades, due to sanctions imposed by the UK and its allies, saw the disintegration of family safety nets as the extended family units became dysfunctional, leaving the most vulnerable people in the community, such as the elderly and the disabled, to fend for themselves.
In rural areas, the elderly have either fled their homesteads or live in perpetual harassment.
The tsikamutandas and self-proclaimed prophets also rob the elderly of goats, chickens and cattle when they accuse them of witchcraft.
The creation of various mechanisms by Government to protect this vulnerable group is a welcome development.
In 2002, Zimbabwe was the first African country to draft a Bill for older persons soon after the Madrid International Plan of Ageing that took place in Madrid in Spain.
The UN General Assembly also adopted a landmark resolution on older persons’ rights in November the same year.
According to reports by HIV and AIDS Service Organisation, most of the elderly assumed the role of caregivers to their sick children and later look after the orphans.
The Zimbabwe Human Development Report 2003 noted that the increase in home based and orphan care due to HIV/Aids places an enormous burden on the elderly, especially women.
The report noted that in developing countries such as Zimbabwe, where the welfare system has limited resources and is under extreme pressure, the elderly find themselves doing care work under extreme conditions of poverty, stigma, lack of support and abuse.
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Millennium Development Goals also carried out a tour around the country seeking to inquire about social protection programmes in communities so as to establish whether they are accessible to deserving beneficiaries and assess the impact of social welfare benefits in communities with the aim of extreme poverty eradication.
Although the Government has been assisting the elderly through other means such as exempting them from paying hospital fees for those above 65 years, not all hospitals and clinics have adhered to this.
Some elderly people have also had residential properties auctioned as they could not afford to pay monthly rates.
In prisons some are doing time for crimes they did not commit because they could not afford the services of lawyers.
In some banking and service halls, the elderly are made to queue for longer hours while on public transport, they are not offered special seats or rates.
According to Help Age Zimbabwe, a local NGO dealing with older persons, a lot still needs to be done.
Government should consider carrying out a comprehensive review of the social protection system and formulate a more integrated and inclusive social protection and assistance framework which guarantees basic livelihood for the vulnerable groups, including the elderly.

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