elder poverty in Myanmar (Burma)

Buddhist teachings have traditionally emphasised respect towards the elderly, and on the surface it seems like family structures are still strong, with 86 per cent of elderly folks reportedly living with family.

But cases of abuse and abandonment are on the rise, so much so that a law was enacted in December 2016 to address the issue. The law sets out to protect the rights, health and economic well-being of the elderly.

Daw Khin Ma Ma is one of the lawyers who worked on drafting the law, and she also runs a nursing home for the elderly who have been abused or abandoned. ….

[She said] “Poverty is at the centre of all this … if an elderly person suffers a stroke, they become a burden. The family still needs to make their living every day, children have to go to school. Who will take care of them?”

Some mentally-ill folks are simply driven somewhere and abandoned by the side of the road, unable to tell rescuers where they live.

Other times, seniors are found literally thrown into a rubbish pile, beaten and left for dead. “There have been so many terrible cases that strip off human dignity,” Daw Khin said. ….

Financially and administratively, the government is limited. Just last year, the Ministry of Social Welfare proposed a universal pension of 25,000 kyats (S$25) for citizens over 65, but had to cut back on its plans because of insufficient budget.

Eventually, it compromised on a monthly pension payout of 18,000 kyats (US$13) for seniors over 90 years of age. The average life expectancy in Myanmar is 67 years.

Lam Shushan and Ray Yeh, “Poverty forces families in Myanmar to ditch their elderly“, Channel NewsAsia, 21 April 2017.

HelpAge International, a London-based charity, is working in Myanmar to lower the age of eligibility for the universal pension. An earlier proposal was to set the age of eligibility at 100 years! HelpAge is active also in other aspects of the lives of older persons.

Through a programme called the Older People’s Self Help Group, HelpAge trains seniors to form a network of support for each other, which encourages them to keep active both economically and socially.

Widow Daw Hla Than, 75, makes a dollar or two for a massage that lasts as long her clients desire. (Photos and video: Lam Shushan and Ray Yeh)

Watch also the 5-minute video “Daw Hla’s story

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