Nasreen Jabeen

My present abode has all the basic facilities one needs to survive — decent roof over my head, sufficient things to wear, edible food, ample drinks, adequate medical care — but what is missing is the love of dear ones. “Those same relations for whom one strives and cares for all their life, and in the process loses one’s own strength, but now they do not have the strength to bear my burden.”

This is the daily mantra of 70-year-old Taj Bibi, one of the many residents of Peshawar’s Bilquis Edhi Old Home. Despite her yearning for familial love, none of her direct or distant family members are ready to come visit, let alone take her home.

Hailing from Charsadda, Zartaj Bibi was left at the privately-run home for senior citizens around eight years ago by her daughter, who has never looked back since. Aching to return to her own house where she raised her children and live most of her adult life, she wondered if the state could provide financial assistance for her well-being, and ensure her basic rights, then maybe her daughter would not shun her away.

Realising the plight of elders, the previous provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had enacted the Senior Citizens Act in 2014 but its implementation remains painstakingly-slow. According to the Social Welfare Department, a total of 625,000 people are registered with it as senior citizens liable to be assisted by the state — but the actual number can only be realised once the law’s rules of business are framed and the department can begin its work on the issue.

Zartaj Bibi, one of the residents of the old home. Photo: Sabaat

The law terms all persons above 60 years of age as senior citizens and directs that they be provided free-of-charge medicines from government hospitals, discounted rates for medical procedures/check-ups and hospital rooms, and a separate facilitation counter. Moreover, they have been exempted from paying any entrance fees for parks and earn a discount when purchasing railway tickets.

Sitting by herself at the Bilquis Edhi Old Home, 75-year-old Haleema Akhtar regretted not having any money for her own medical care — a constant for people her age — as by her age one has spent their savings on the welfare of their children.

Saifullah, who manages the old home, informed that they host a total of 10 women, including two senior citizens from Charsadda, at their facility. He explained that most of the senior citizens abandoned by their families are men, as it is more common for sons to leave their aged fathers or grandfathers here. “They say the fathers are ruining their household environments or causing trouble in their families,” shared Saifullah, while explaining the excuses given by those who leave their fathers at the centre, adding that while they promise to keep a check on their elderly fathers, the vow is hardly ever followed through.

Social Welfare Department Director Habibullah Afridi admitted that the law’s implementation is missing since no relevant policies were drafted after its enactment. However, he added that the rules of business and relevant policies have now been drafted and approved by the concerned authorities and a post of assistant director has also been established. “We are working on the matter on a war-footing and in four months all the hurdles will be overcome,” he assured.

Along with the government’s assurance, there is a dire need of both public and private old homes in the province to cater to vulnerable senior citizens who have been shown the door by their families.

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