The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019 amends the 2007 Act which protects all senior citizens and parents including those who are neglected and are unable to support themselves. The Bill expands the scope of the 2007 Act and adds certain provisions for their wellbeing and safety.
Concerns with 2007 act:
- Despite this act however, it is a fact that most people in India would rather suffer than have the family name sullied by taking their own children to court for not providing for them.
- This need to maintain a facade is combined with a lack of knowledge of rights, the inherent inability of the elderly to approach a tribunal for recourse under the law, and poor implementation of the Act by various State governments.
Key features of the Bill include:
- In the Act, the term children refers to children and grandchildren, excluding minors.
- The Bill adds the following to the definition: step-children, adoptive children, children-in-laws, and the legal guardian of minor children.
- Further, the Act defines a relative as the legal heir of a childless senior citizen, excluding minors, who possess or would inherit his property after death. The Bill amends this to include minors represented by their legal guardians.
- The Act defines parents to include biological, adoptive, and step parents. The Bill expands the definition of parents to include parent-in-laws, and grandparents.
- Under the Act, maintenance is defined as the provision of food, clothing, residence, medical attendance and treatment. Welfare is defined to include the provision of food, healthcare, and other amenities necessary for senior citizens. The Bill expands the definition of:
- maintenance to include the provision of healthcare, safety, and security for parents and senior citizens to lead a life of dignity,
- welfare to include the provision of housing, clothing, safety, and other amenities necessary for the physical and mental well-being of a senior citizen or parent.
- Maintenance orders: Under the Act, state governments constitute maintenance Tribunals to decide on the maintenance payable to senior citizens and parents. These Tribunals may direct children and relatives to pay a monthly maintenance fee of up to Rs 10,000 to parents and senior citizens. The Bill removes the upper limit on the maintenance fee. The Tribunals may take the following into consideration while deciding the maintenance amount:
- the standard of living and earnings of the parent or senior citizen, and
- the earnings of the children. The Act requires children and relatives to deposit the maintenance amount with the relevant parent or senior citizen within 30 days of being ordered to do so.
- The Bill reduces the number of days to 15.
- Appeals: The Act provides for senior citizens or parents to appeal the decisions of the maintenance Tribunal. The Bill allows children and relatives also to appeal decisions of the Tribunal.
- Offences and penalties: Under the Act, abandonment of a senior citizen or parent is punishable with imprisonment of up to three months, or a fine of up to Rs 5,000, or both. The Bill increases the penalty to imprisonment between three and six months, or fine of up to Rs 10,000, or both. The Bill also provides that if the children or relatives fail to comply with the maintenance order, the Tribunal may issue a warrant to levy the due amount. Failure to pay such fine may lead to imprisonment of up to one month, or until the payment is made, whichever is earlier.
- Maintenance officer: The Act provides for a maintenance officer to represent a parent during proceedings of the Tribunal. The Bill requires maintenance officers to: (i) ensure compliance with orders on maintenance payments, and (ii) act as a liaison for parents or senior citizens.
- Establishment of care-homes: Under the Act, state governments may set up old age homes. The Bill removes this and provides for senior citizen care homes which may be set up by government or private organisations. These homes must be registered with a registration authority set up by the state government. The central government will prescribe minimum standards for these homes, such as food, infrastructure, and medical facilities.
- Healthcare: The Act provides for certain facilities (such as separate queues, beds, and facilities for geriatric patients) for senior citizens in government hospitals. The Bill require all hospitals, including private organisations, to provide these facilities for senior citizens. Further, homecare facilities will be provided for senior citizens with disabilities.
- Protection and welfare measures: The Bill requires every police station to have at least one officer, not below the rank of Assistant Sub-Inspector, to deal with issues related to parents and senior citizens. State governments must constitute a special police unit for senior citizens in every district. The unit will be headed by a police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
Elderly as a resource:
- The elderly should be seen as a blessing, not a burden.
- The elderly are becoming the fastest growing, but underutilized resource available to humanity. Rather than putting them aside, physically (and mentally), to be cared for separately, they should be integrated into the lives of communities where they can make a substantial contribution to improving social conditions.
- The benefits of turning the ‘problem’ of the elderly into a ‘solution’ for other social problems is being demonstrated in several countries.
Lacunae in the bill:
- Isolation and loneliness among the elderly is rising.
- Nearly half the elderly felt sad and neglected, 36 per cent felt they were a burden to the family.
- Rise in age-related chronic illness:
- Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases will cause more death and illness worldwide than infectious or parasitic diseases over the next few years.
- In developed nations, this shift has already happened. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are expected to almost double every 20 years, as life expectancy increases.
- Special challenges for less developed nations:
- Poorer countries will carry the double burden of caring for older people with chronic diseases, as well as dealing with continued high rates of infectious diseases.
- Increasing need for long-term care:
- The number of sick and frail elderly needing affordable nursing homes or assisted living centers will likely increase.
- Rise in the Health care costs:
- As older people stop working and their health care needs increase, governments could be overwhelmed by unprecedented costs.
- While there may be cause for optimism about population aging in some countries, the Pew survey reveals that residents of countries such as Japan, Italy, and Russia are the least confident about achieving an adequate standard of living in old age.
- Elderly women issues:
- They face life time of gender-based discrimination. The gendered nature of ageing is such that universally, women tend to live longer than men.
- In the advanced age of 80 years and above, widowhood dominates the status of women with 71 per cent of women and only 29 per cent of men having lost their spouse.
- Social mores inhibit women from re-marrying, resulting in an increased likelihood of women ending up alone.
- The life of a widow is riddled with stringent moral codes, with integral rights relinquished and liberties circumvented.
- Social bias often results in unjust allocation of resources, neglect, abuse, exploitation, gender-based violence, lack of access to basic services and prevention of ownership of assets.
- Ageing women are more likely to get excluded from social security schemes due to lower literacy and awareness levels.
- Ageing individual is expected to need health care for a longer period of time than previous generations but elderly care for a shorter period of time
Need of the hour:
- As a signatory to Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA), India has the responsibility to formulate and implement public policy on population ageing.
- Issues of poverty, migration, urbanisation, ruralisation and feminisation compound the complexity of this emerging phenomenon. Public policy must respond to this bourgeoning need and mainstream action into developmental planning.
- Gender and social concerns of elderly, particularly elderly women, must be integrated at the policy level.
- The elderly, especially women, should be represented in decision making.
- Increasing social/widow pension and its universalisation is critical for expanding the extent and reach of benefits.
- Renewed efforts should be made for raising widespread awareness and access to social security schemes such as National Old Age Pension and Widow Pension Scheme. Provisions in terms of special incentives for elderly women, disabled, widowed should also be considered.