Sunday, 24 January 2016

Caring for Elders - A Matter of Duty, not an Obligation


The process and consciousness of ageing can be overwhelming, bringing with it the inevitabilities of loneliness, death and irreversibility. Despite this, it may be deemed a positive experience for many. However, its success does not merely depend on longevity of life but the quality of life of an individual.

The joint family structure in India has gone through many structural and functional changes and has seen a gradual, yet steady decline. It has been replaced by the nuclear family set up, synonymous with independent living and fewer filial obligations. An undesirable effect of this has been the isolation of the elderly. This social change has led to the dissolution of traditional means of support for them.  An emerging crisis pertaining to the support for such isolated elders looms in its place, instead. Who takes on the mammoth task of responsibility for their care and support?

According to The Hindu, by 2050, India will be home to one out of every six of the world’s older persons, and only China will have a larger number of elderly people, according to estimates released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF).

The report released by UNPF and HelpAge India to mark the International Day of Older Persons — observed on October 1 — suggests that India had 90 million elderly persons in 2011, with the number expected to grow to 173 million by 2026. Of the 90 million seniors, 30 million are living alone, and 90 per cent work for livelihood.

The report says the number of elderly women is more than that of elderly men. Nearly three out of five single older women are very poor, and two out of three rural elderly women are fully dependents. There is also an increasing proportion of elderly at 80-plus ages, and this pattern is more pronounced among women.

The elderly are a vulnerable section of society, susceptible to abuse and neglect which leads to depression, health problems, cognitive decline and an overall low quality of life. In such a scenario, it is absolutely necessary to address the problem with mindfulness and compassion.  It is the moral responsibility of each person to contribute to eldercare – to provide financial assistance and emotional support for their ageing parents or relatives.

However, the responsibility of supporting and caring for elders lies not only on individuals but society as a whole. Corporates have played a significant role in the past to ensure a segment of their profit is efficiently contributed to the elderly cause. India has one of the oldest traditions of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) - the role of which has evolved over the last few decades.  It is the ethical duty of businesses – big and small - to give back to the community by supporting causes that better the lives of the less privileged.

As per the new amendments of the recently passed Companies Act-2013, setting up old age homes, day care centres and such other facilities for senior citizens will now come under the purview of CSR activities. As per the current provisions of Companies Law, certain profitable companies are required to shell out at least two per cent of their three-year annual average net profit towards CSR.                                                                                                                   

The Financial Express in a recent article reported, that according to the Crisil CSR Yearbook, in fiscal 2015, small listed firms spent relatively more on CSR than their bigger counterparts. While this is heartening, let us hope that, in future, small and big corporates continue to work in tandem to achieve a common vision – integrated social rehabilitation to enhance the lives of senior citizens across the country.