3 October 2012
This week the elderly were recognized in a special International Day of Older Persons.
The occasion in Fiji was recognised by a gathering organised by the Fiji Council of Social Services.
But it seems not everone reveres our older citizens - a survey conducted by FCOSS claims that many senior citizens in the country are abused.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Hassan Khan, FCOSS Executive Director
KHAN: The focus of his discussion is largely the overall view of the situation of elderly and the different types of services that are available through government and civil society organisations and highlighted also the Fiji National Policy of Ageing and Elderly which was one of the actions that FCOSS promoted three years ago and asked our advocacy and our submission of the first draft of this policy. It has now been approved by the Cabinet and we also celebrated the first anniversary of the establishment of the National Policy on Ageing in Fiji, which is now a government document.
COUTTS: Now moving on to I suppose what could be deemed the challenges of an ageing population in this 21st Century and the need to promote and develop the society of all ages and the security that older people need. But you conducted a survey and you came across some challenges of your own that some elderly citizens are being abused?
KHAN: Yes. I think from what we heard from the older persons in various districts of Fiji, these were largely focus group discussions of people that were more or less randomly picked or they just came along, they heard about it. Their voices were that one of the main complaints was that their difficulties, challenges they face is financial, because those who have got some kind of pension, they're pension value is much less now because of the rising cost of things and the other thing is that all the pensioners on the Fiji National Provident Fund suffered cutback between 15 to 20 per cent and that reduced the capacity to buy their medicines, etc. for other things, so that's the main issue. The other one was the health issue, the access to health and their poor health conditions etc and the availability of healthcare and the cost of medicine etc. and for them to care for their own health is also seriously compromised because of this reduction of the pension.
The third thing that has come up and this is a hidden reality in Fiji, the scale of elder abuse that is happening. In fact they termed the reduction in their pension as elder abuse, they termed the inaccessibility or that they cannot afford the medicine as also a type of elder abuse. There are a number of elderly who have their allowances or their family assistance allowances they're getting is less and also a lot of them have been abruptly cut off because of the review by the World Bank and the poverty situation in Fiji and need by the authorities that they needed to trim down the number of people, while they accept the fact that there are people who may be abusing, but this was also a case. So the abuse of elderly is in various forms like psychological and emotional abuse, there is physical abuse, neglect and abandonment, cases of sexual abuse, economic or financial, robbery, theft, all these things come in. Most of this abuse are hidden, because the elderly are in such a situation where large, a number of this abuse is done within the cultural and family context and they have no other place to go. So if somebody complains about it, we have to be very careful what we complain about etc. and do we have the capacity to look after them is the issue I think, all the civil society organisations and other government agencies are mindful of that and this is why everyone is prodding very gently and but time has now come to openly acknowledge the fact that there is abuse and that we need to do something about it, education and other things. So that is the situation we are in now.
COUTTS: And the abuse because the rate of the elderly is increasing, the populations getting older, but is there also a statement of the fiscal constraints on families now that they actually can't afford to look after their families extended members of the family anymore, because of the poverty that's increasing in Fiji?
KHAN: Exactly, there are cases where the old is looking after the very old. People in their late 50s or in 60s now looking after their parents or grandparents in 80s or late 80s. So with almost 10 per cent of the population 800,000 elderly. This includes 55 plus because government's retiring age is 55 and the president himself said with that reality of retirement at 55, he says it would safely to conclude that everybody over 55 is in the category of elderly and he put that figure at 10 per cent. This was between 10 and 11 per cent more.
COUTTS: Is that a policy Mr Khan that needs to change, does the retirement age need to be raised?
KHAN: Well, we have been Council of Social Services is the only organisation that says that there should be no retirement age. People should work as long as they want to work and as long as they are physically and mentally fit to work. But that change, we cannot see any change at the moment. But in the national policy, there is a clause that says that people should work as long as possible, but we are taking that on point and point out to them that you have it on the document that you've approved, but each organisation or government it's up to them when they retire people. But people don't want to have retirement age, but this is something that we have to live with.
This is why they have called for a social pension, because everybody in Fiji pays 15 per cent tax, that is the value added tax, VAT. So on that basis, the elderly, because those were an FNP Pension that has been reduced by 15 to 20 per cent so plus 30 per cent of their money is already out, so that is the stage. This is why they have called for a social pension, universal social pension like the ones in Samoa and Cook Islands where they get $500 per month. Everybody who turns 60 gets that and we feel that the same should be given in Fiji. Furthermore, everybody in the rural areas and the farmers, they have had no pensions, they have not been on FNPF. There have been no other support for them. They are completely without any financial support in all this. For them, they've called for $1,000 a month pension, social pension, and this is something that we have been proposing to the government for the last two years in the budget. Nothing has happened, but we hope that a start would be hopefully made for 2013 in the 2013 budget.
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