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H.E. Mr. Chandra Wickramasinghe

Address by the Head of Delegation

at the

Second World Assembly on Ageing

Madrid, Spain

11th April 2002



Sri Lanka which has a population of 19 million is a predominantly agricultural country with an agricultural sector accounting for about 20% of the Country's gross domestic product. More than half of the Island's labour force is directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture and allied pursuits. Basically about 72% of the countrys population lives in rural areas and depend on domestic agriculture or agriculture based small domestic industries. The commercial plantation Industry is a significant part of the agricultural economy, which consists of three main crops, Tea, Rubber and Coconut.

Demographic Transformation and Population Ageing.

The growth rate of Sri Lanka's population had increased rapidly in the second half of the 20th Century. Development of health services and preventive health care activities directly impacted to reduce the mortality rate and increase life expectancy. As a result of a concerted Family Planning programme, successfully implemented over the second half of the 20th Century, the fertility rate of the population has declined steeply. These twin declines in Mortality and Fertility have contributed to increase exponentially the proportion of elderly people. As in many countries where these trends have been observed, we see an inversion of the demographic pyramid with an increasing preponderance of the elderly.

It has been estimated that the percentage of persons over 60 years will increase rapidly from the current 10% to 20% by the year 2025. Old age dependency will increase from current 5% to 24% by 2015 and to 32% by 2025. This situation is bound to have lave an effect on the overall economic and social development activities of the country consequent on the resultant budgetary burdens.

Among the ageing population in Sri Lanka, women will constitute the majority as life expectancy for them is higher than that for men. Life expectancy for males at present is around 70 years and for females it is around 75 years. This is projected to increase further to 75 years for males and 80 years for females by the year 2025. While elderly population increases rapidly in this manner, the growth of the labour foce will show a decline. In this context, countries like Sri Lanka will have to focus atention mainly on two issues. One, the provision of adequate welfare and safety to elderly individuals and the other the absorption of the adverse impact of the ageing population with all its attendant implications on overall development at national level. These problems have to be resolved within the existing social and cultural framework and the pressing financial constraints faced by countries like Sri Lanka.

The majority of the elderly people in Sri Lanka live in rural villages. Although village life has its hardships it is not as complex as urban life. Elders in villages live in extended family settings with their kith and kin assisting in income earning activities that are mutually supportive. But in urban families most of the elderly people have to live alone and face loneliness and other accompanying problems stemming from insufficient family incomes coupled with a high cost of living. Internanal and International migration of young people, the 'Care Givers', seeking greener pastures aggravates the loneliness and emotional stress of older persons. The ethnic crisis in the country has also created feelings of insecurity and uncertainty in the minds of rider people. Some families have been displaced due to the ethnic conflict and others have migrated either to safer areas or to other countries leaving the older family members alone at home or in a refugee camp without love, care or support.

The historical, religious and cultural background of Sri Lanka would require that older people should be cared for at home by family members, relatives or neighbours. Elders are considered custodians and transmitters of our cultural heritage. In a our society older people are respected as valuable resources with skills, experieence and wisdom. However, as a result of the rapid socio economic changes in modern society accompanied by uneven demographic transformations, the elderly population is compelled to contend with issues that are  unfamiliar as well as personally distreming. Steps taken for the Welfare of Elders.

Sri Lanka had addressed itself to issues of increasing elderly population as early as the 1940s when the Government appointed the Social Service Commission (1944) with Sir Ivor Jennings as the Chairman to look into the problem of destitute elders. The Commission had pointed out that nearly 37% of relief assistance recipients were older persons. This had encouraged religious bodies and charitable organisations to open and run homes for the elderly. Cultural and religious obligations too demanded appropriate arrangements for the care and protection of elders.

Sri Lanka had participated in the 1st  World Assembly on Ageing held in Vienna Austria in 1982. Following the guidance of The Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing and The UN Principles on Ageing, Sri Lanka introduced a number of far reaching measures for the welfare of elderly people.

National Committee on Ageing.

The National Committee on Ageing which functions under the Ministry of Social Welfare is the apex body established to assist the Ministry of Social Welfare in policy making and the formulation of national plans and programmes for the welfare of elderly people. It consists of officials of the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Department of Social Services, experts in the field of ageing and representatives of relevant Government Organizations, Non Governmental Organizations and Voluntary Organizations. The National Committee on Ageing co-ordinates the public and Non Government Sector activities for elders. The Committee has played a significant role for 20 years in association with the agencies of  ESCAP, UNDP, and Helpage Sri Lanka.


National Policy on Ageing.

The objective of the National Policy is to give leadership and policy initiatives to create a healthy environment for older persons and is focussed primarily on:

a. The preparation of the population for a productive and fulfilling life in freir old age, socially, economically, physically and spiritually and.

b. Ensuring independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity for the elderly.

NGO Participation.

International and Local Non Government Organizations have played a vital role in providing assistance for the care and wellbeing of elderly people. The Non Governmental Sector in Sri Lanka especially influenced by International conventions has established voluntary organizations for older person and undertaken innovative programmes to provide care and welfare for a rapidly increasing aged population. Organizations like UN - ESCAP and Helpage International have contributed much to assist in co-ordinating activities to improve the quality of life of older persons.

Legislation for the Elderly

Among the number of far reaching measures introduced for the welfare of elderly people, the enactment of legislation viz. the Act No. 9 of 2000 for the Protection of Rights of the Elders is indeed a significant achievement.

Some of the Salient features of the Act are as follows:

1. Establishment of the National Council for Elders. 

2. Protection of the rights of elders.

3. Registration of persons and organizations providing services to elders. 

4. Establishment of a National Fund for the Welfare of Elders.

5. Appointment of Boards to inquire into complaints of elders and determine claims for their maintenance and other miscellaneous matters relating to their problems.

There is provision in the Act for older persons to take legal action if their rights

are not secured. The Department of Social Services has already taken action to

implement most of the provisions of the Act. Some of the older persons have

responded positively, and are volunteering to participate actively in

implementing the functions. They are happy with the decision of the

Government to enact an Act and a Plan of Action for their welfare. The

publication named `Elders' is popular among older persons as it provides

information useful to them. All this has created an increasing awareness of the issues of older person. Further, the across the board position of free education and free medical service by the state affords subtantial relief to families looking after their elderly parents and grand parents.

Identity Cards for Elderly People.

The Department of Social Service has introduced a system of issuing special identity cards for persons over 65 years, under the guidance of the Ministry of Social Welfare The special identity card issued to persons over 65 years is very popular among them as they receive priority in obtaining services from busy Governmente Departments, Hospitals, Banks etc. Further they consider it a recognition of their special status in the community.


Income Security

Older persons should have at least minimum income security to enable then to live with dignity. The Public Service Pension Scheme and the Employees Providen Fund are two major schemes providing social security for Government and Corporation Sector employees. Additionally, there are other contributory schemes estabisned by the Government and private sector organizations, like Banks, which are in operation The Ministry of Social Welfare has also introduced in 1996 a Social Security and Pension Scheme, for people employed in the informal sector. This scheme provides a pension for poor elderly people who have contributed towards the development of the country.


Day Care Centres and Home Nursing Service.

Opening of Day Care Centres for elderly people has been implemented by  the Government, Non Governmental and Voluntary Organizations. The Ministry of Social Welfare has taken steps to establish day care centres both in urban and rural areas treating them as a necessary facility to look after elders when their family members are out of their homes.

Introduction of home nursing services is immensely useful to look after sicky elders living without the help of family members. A scheme for training home nurses has been started with this in view by the Ministry of Social Welfare with the assistance of Helpage Sri Lanka. Helpage Sri Lanka is also conducting on their own, a preparate programme to train home nurses.

In addition to the measures outlined above, the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Department of Social Services have also taken steps to conduct training and awareness programmes, Health Camps, Job placement services, distribution of spectacles and other assistive devices to disabled elders with the assistance of voluntary organizations.

Constraints in the development of institutionalised services to the Elderly

Sri Lanka provides varied services and facilities to elders through Government Institutions, Provincial Councils, Local Government Institutions and NGOO, despite severe resource constraints, common to most developing countries. The absence of properly documented information on ageing and related matters, has posed a major problem to planners and policy makers in the formulation of effective policy programmes.

The task of providing food, shelter, clothing and health care for older persons is an important social issue faced by modern societies. The Sri Lanka Government is fully cognizant of its obligations in this regard and is doing its utmost towards meeting them, within the existing resource constraints, with the assistance of NGOO and multi-lateral Agencies. Although the problem of the elderly was not a major issue in traditional societies with their extended family systems, with rapid economic and social development however, modern society sees the traditional systems fast breaking down. Hence, the introduction of institutionalised social security systems are essential especially for the very old. Ideally, it should be a participatory one with a public-family mix. Severe mental depression among the elderly in particular, often stems from loneliness and neglect. Even where sophisticated welfare systems are in place, as in the more affluent countries, the absence of a human and emotive element would still lead to withdrawal and depression on the part of the elderly. In Sri Lanka, such a public-family complementarity is likely to meet with greater success in view of the strong religious and social mores which cast compelling moral obligations on the younger generations to treat the elderly with due care, respect and dignity.

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