H.E. Mr. Ahsan Ahmad
Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen
It's a matter of great privilege for me to express on behalf of the Government of Pakistan and on my own behalf, the deep appreciation and gratitude to the Government of Spain for organising Second World Assembly as a follow up of the First World Assembly held in Vienna.
Despite intensive extraordinary socio-economic pressures, Pakistani society has stood for high value, respect and dignity of human life. We in Pakistan, regard old age as a mark of esteem, wisdom and piety. This could be attributed to the strong ties that exist in the joint family system nurtured by religious values, dignifying the status of elderly segment of society.
The Constitution of Pakistan declares promotion of social and economic well being of the people as one of its cherished objectives and inter alia caste an obligation on the STATE to provide basic necessities of life for those citizens who are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment.
The issues such as income security, housing and medical care for elderly have assumed increasing importance in Pakistan, and with the passage of time receiving greater attention of the policy makers in the Government, (though the nature of problem being faced by them are different from those in developed countries). Great strides in investigative and curative techniques, improved health coverage in public sector, effective poverty alleviation schemes launched by the government, and media awareness have contributed to improve life expectancy rate in Pakistan during the last couple of years. This trend points to increase in life expectancy from current 60 to 70 years in next 10 years in Pakistan.
In order to address the issue of ageing in Pakistan various steps/measures have been taken. These include; Employees Old Age Benefit Act 1976, Social Security Ac: 1965, Pension for Government Employees and Government Employees Benevolent Fund.
I. MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS & PROGRAMMES UNDERWAY
In addition, the following major programmes are under way :
(a) National Senior Citizen Task Force
The Government of Pakistan realises its responsibilities towards the well being, protection and rehabilitation of elderly population. To highlight its commitments to the cause of elderly people and in order to help create awareness in the society, the present government celebrated the International Year of Old Persons in October 2000 and 2001. In order to frame a concerted national policy for the welfare of elderly citizen, a high level National Senior Citizens Task Force was constructed by the President of Pakistan. The Task Force has been entrusted with the responsibility to carry out analysis of Ageing, identification of needs and draft a comprehensive National Policy in line with National/International Commitments. It has been asked to suggest mechanism for the implementation of all inter sectoral activities related to the elderly people. It is to submit its recommendations by 30`h June, 2002. The Government intends to implement its recommendations for adopting short, medium and long term relief package for the well being of the ageing. Towards this end, well considered projects will be formulated and executed.
The Government has already introduced some important facilities for elderly population. These consist of various measures for Senior Citizens including exemption from standing in queues, free membership to all public libraries, finalisation of pension cases without delay and exemption from payment of taxes on recreational activities. Government has decided to affix special strips as mark of identification of Senior Citizens on their National Identity Cards. This is essential for affording special treatment/concessions as stated above. The efforts are also being made to ensure proper representation of senior citizens on governmem bodies of their concern. Further the government has also notified focal points for helping the elderly in all the government hospitals.
(b) Programmes/Projects Undertaken For The Benefit Of Senior Citizens:
In 1988 and 1990, the Ministry of Women Development, Social Welfare and Special Education sponsored two sample surveys in the metropolitan districts of the country, to identify and determine their problems, general behaviour interaction with their family members and other persons in the society, and also to form specific recommendations for the welfare and development of the Senior Citizens. A similar suns has also been conducted in the North West Frontier Province during the year 2000, to identify their problems/requirements and potentia _ Another survey on similar lines has already been launched in the province of Baluchistan. Similarly surveys will also be initiated in the remaining two provinces.
(c) Old People's Homes
The Provincial Governments in Pakistan have set up Old People_ Homes in big cities like Rawalpindi, Lahore, Multan, Karachi to provide shelter and care for the homeless deserted and indigent aged personsSimilar Old People's Home are also being run in some big cities by private sector.
(d) National Research and Training Centres for Older Citizens
In order to continuously provide feedback and promote awareness on issue of Ageing to the policy makers, academia and civil society regarding Senior Citizen's Age National Research and Training Centresfor Older Citizens has been established in the NGO Sector which is affiliated with Global Centres on Ageing, Washington, DC.
II. PROCESS/VISION FOR THE FUTURE
The issue of care, protection and well being of the elderly has been addressed under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) and Ten Years Perspective Plan. These programmes provide for establishment of Senior citizens homes to accommodate destitute, indigent and homeless persons without support. Also included in these Plans/Programmes are creation of Senior Citizen's clubs/centers at local levels to make use of their life long experiences, knowledge and, expertise. Apart from providing institutional care to the needy/elderly persons, major emphasis is being laid on strengthening our traditional joint family system. Establishment of geriatric wards in hospitals is another priority area in the direction. The scope of providing hostel facilities to the retired persons at their own expenses is being explored. Also special beds in the major Government Hospitals are being reserved for elderly patents. Besides the public sector, the private sector is progressively providing necessary health care facilities for elderly people. Some initiative taken by the government in this regard are as follows :
(a) Senior Citizens Talent Pool
The Government has created a Senior Citizens Talent Pool and Placement Services at all levels, so that their skills are used and they are not taken to be redundant on an age threshold. This arrangement will enable effective channelling oft heir experience and capabilities.
(b) Social and Economic Security
Government employees (around 700,000) are entitled to pension and gratuity schemes. This provides them income security in old age, though modes. Old Age Benefit Scheme for the industrial workers is also effectively enforced. For this purpose, Rs.7.3 billion have been distributed amongst 191,000 old age workers since 1986. This scheme covers around 1.64 million workers. The government has appointed pay and pension committees periodically to review persons for the retired persons. The objectives being to cater for raise in cost of living.
(c) Special Handling Counters at Public Places
Government has set up separate counters for Senior Citizens at outdoor department of major Hospitals, all Airport check point, Airline Reservation Offices, major Railway Stations etc. which reflects government's concern for the cause of elderly population.
III. INTERNATIONAL PLAN OF ACTION
The developing countries especially those heavily indebted, have plunged into great difficulties as a result of the world-wide economic recession and the process of globalisation. The increase in debt servicing, withdrawal of subsidies on essential commodities and continuing denial of market access to exports have had a negative impact on the overall economic and social conditions in the developing countries. The vulnerable groups, especially the elderly, have been affected most severely. Thus most of the countries have not attained the targets/commitments made under the International Plan of Action for aged population adopted in 1982 in Vienna. This clearly indicates the gap in achieving the desired level of progress for the old age population. This is the opportune time that developing and developed nations should realise their role and attach importance to the best interest of senior citizens. On the basis of key lessons drawn out of the experiences of post First World Assembly era, the new millennium challenges ahead should be met with out improved vision and strengths. Our prime consideration should be to advocate the cause of elderly population by promoting respect for the dignity, equality, non discrimination, violation free society, better health care and above all breaking the vicious circle of poverty.
Pakistan views Second World Assembly on Ageing as an opportunity to asses the progress made in achieving the desired goals and also to identify gaps since 1982 for redesigning/reformulating strategies and actions to support global initiatives/ commitment being made by this Assembly at Madrid.
Pakistan is facing severe resource constraints in its economic and social development efforts. These problems have aggravated due to the decline in Pakistan's exports in the wake of the post September 11 developments. Therefore, it is very difficult to allocate reasonable resources for social development thus increasing dependence on International (bilateral as well as multi-lateral) financial assistance and support for achieving the desired level of sustainable social development. Ageing does pose a challenge to the economic and social planning of the nation in coming years of which the government is fully cognizant. Technical and financial assistance by International Agencies can assist us substantially in achieving the goals set for welfare of elderly.
We are prepared to undertake and galvanize the global efforts that ensure better and safe elderly population throughout the World in general and in Pakistan in particular.
We assure our full support in fulfilment of the cause of elderly population of only in Pakistan but all over the world, we also remain fully committed to the efforts being taken up by the UN agencies to procure an enabling environment for the ageing population where they can live their lives with nope and joy and feel safe and secure. This commitment has been reinforced by the President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan in his message on International Day of the Elderly - 15` October 2001, where he reiterated the need to take special measures to strengthen family structures and bonds to provide better care to the Elderly people and assured his full support towards this end.