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 Proof of citizenship has become key; yet, vulnerable groups are struggling to get their citizenship cards

Political talk in Nepal is ubiquitous at the moment. Whether at home or in tea shops, whether the interlocutors are young or old, no conversation is completed without discussing which party will win the election and what will happen next. Many anticipate that the first priority will be the constitution.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time in an old age home a few minutes from where I live, talking to its founder and the elderly women who reside there. Already thrilled to be talking to the few grandmothers who were vocal and expressive with their views about the elections and the constitution, my interest escalated when the conversation shifted towards the citizenship issue, old age allowance and its links to the constitution. These women hoped that the to-be-written constitution will have clear provisions for elderly people and that the old age allowance will be given to any elderly person without age bias or other similar limitations.

Rs 500 a month

The sad reality is that out of the eight elderly women, only two have been receiving allowances, while the rest expressed their disappointment in not receiving anything despite being eligible. One main reason was that they did not have citizenship. It then occurred to me that they would not have been able to vote. I was previously unaware of this situation.

Here is a little background about the role of citizenship and old age allowance. The universal old age allowance in Nepal is defined as such: applicable to Dalits who are of 60 years and above, and 70 years and above for other social groups. Every eligible elderly citizen is entitled to Rs 500 per month. To be eligible, each person must undergo a registration process, which requires the citizenship card as proof of identity. Without citizenship, one cannot start the process. In fact, one cannot start any process, not even for a voter card.

When I inquired whether anything had been done to begin the process for these elderly women to acquire their citizenship, the lady who runs the home replied that despite trying many times, making frequent trips to respective places and even visiting the close relatives of these elderly, it was all in vain. “One elderly who lives here has been abandoned by her family members. She is old enough to acquire benefits. I made many trips to her place to talk about the citizenship issue and see if they could help with the process, but I failed,” she said.

Deprived of benefits

The other elderly women were brought in directly from the streets or rescued from difficult situations and given shelter at the home. Such scenarios, where it is no one’s fault that they don’t possess citizenship, leave these elderly people deprived of the benefits and rights they are entitled to. I also found out that a few elderly women had died without getting a chance to enjoy the benefits provided by the state, something they lamented till their very last breath. Moreover, they expressed bitterness and helplessness that despite efforts, officials could not modify the laws regarding citizenship requirements.

This brings us to loopholes within the social protection mechanism that the state has for the ageing population and it reminds us of how obscure this mechanism is. Despite previous research highlighting how elderly men and women have to walk for hours in order to obtain the allowance or how they have to face untimely distributions of allowances, I feel the issue of citizenship is a more serious and contentious one. To be recognised as a senior citizen, there is no way around getting a citizenship card. There are senior citizens who have gone on for years without ever having to show any proof of their citizenship. However, times have changed and identification has become key to all rights, and yet, the most vulnerable groups have been left out.

Categorization helps

If identification is as crucial as it seems to be, why are these elderly people not able to receive it and what can be done to help them? The question in the policy debate points again to whether the elderly people need to be categorized based on their individual situations. For example, as those living with family members, who are supported in every step of their lives; those living alone without the support of family members; those abandoned and living on the streets or in old age homes; and those living with disabilities. Furthermore, such categories can help identify the most vulnerable people so that support can be provided. Moreover, it is also important to understand the role of citizenship in the lives of these elders. That these elderly women were not able to vote in the election as they did not have citizenship is a huge concern, as they are certainly entitled to the right to vote.

For elderly people living in old age homes, the people running the home are like their family. Hence, instead of having to locate a family member or a place where they originally came from as criteria to obtain citizenship, I believe that the state should be able to provide them with citizenship under the name of their foster caretaker. Such a provision can be abused if not handled well, due to duplication and other forms of fraud, but an alternative solution to the one where a family member has to be located needs to exist. If not, with the increasing ageing population, a majority will suffer and be deprived of their rights to social security benefits.

One elderly woman from the home who receives the allowance stated, “I want the constitution to be written and I wish that my friends who are not getting the allowance will get it under the new government.” The voice of senior citizens calls for the writing of the constitution and their hopes are pinned on a new and committed government. The debate between owning a citizenship card as proof of identity as opposed to calling oneself a citizen of a certain country without having a form of evidence is food for thought.

With Nepal’s ageing population on the rise, elderly people form a crucial segment of our communities. Now is a golden opportunity for elected politicians to prove that they have given thought to these sensitive issues and demonstrate that they can solve this problem.

KC is a researcher for Livelihoods, Basic Services and Social Protection at the Nepal Centre for Contemporary

 Research: SONY KC

Source: The Kathmandu Post, (November 22, 2013)

 

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Kathmandu Poush 6 – Different government, non government and other concerned parties working on Elderly Citizens’ social security and Human rights claimed that solving the problems that Elder Citizens are facing is being a hard process because the civilians are not getting enough positive messages on the issue. An interaction program on the subject ‘Social security for Senior Citizens – Problems and their solutions’ was held on the 21st of Dec, where they said that the problems are not being taken seriously because of lack of awareness in general people’s minds.

Although the census of 2068 showed the results of decreasing child population and an increment in the population of senior citizens, the government has been unable to increase the share of budget for Senior Citizens’ benefit, say the concerned parties. Insufficient budget, inappropriate policies and lack of public awareness is hindering the problem solving of Senior Citizens, they added.

Although the number of Senior Citizens have increased up to almost 22,00,000; the budget distributed for senior citizens is only Rs. 2,50,000, says Surya Shrestha, deputy secretary- Ministry of Womwn, Children and Social Welfare. The policies addressing the problems are relatively stronger today but the weakness in the execution of those policies is adding up to the problem, he adds. Mr. Shrestha also argued that, in the case of Senior Citizens, the civilians seem more concerned than the government and the nation should be more concerned about the social security and rights of Senior Citizens.

A senior citizen, recently retired from the government service, Mr. Jayram Nepal said, at this time of government’s carelessness on the issue, organizations and aware citizens should act on researching and study the issue so they could pressure the government to act upon the issue. According to Dr. Padam Khatiwada, Vice Principal, Tribhuvan University, the senior citizens are being neglected by their own offsprings mainly due to property matters.

The President of the organization Sankalpa Nepal, Kamala Parajuli explained about how the government is turning a blind eye on the issues of the elderly and for that reason, Sankalpa Nepal will constantly work on pressuring the government to take  this issue into consideration.

Source – Gorkhapatra Daily, December 23rd, 2012

BIRATNAGAR: Jibkumari Ojha of Biratnagar-6, who suffers from high blood pressure, used to manage her medical expenses from the social security allowance she received from the government.

But with delay in the distribution of the allowance, she has been relying on her family for medication, placing an extra financial burden on them. She has not received her social security allowance for the past eight months.

“I was managing somehow to buy the medicine with that amount. But now I have to rely on my family,” said Ojha. “Months have elapsed waiting for the allowance and now I feel it will never come.” Like Ojha, there are 5,679 people in Biratnagar Sub-metropolitan city waiting for their social security allowance since January.

Altogether 64,279 people–senior citizens, disabled people, Dalits and single women — qualify for social security allowance in Morang. But the district has not received the allowance budget since the beginning of fiscal year 2012/13.

The District Development Committee (DDC) has stopped allocations of the allowance, citing the budget crunch. The 65 Village Development committees (VDCs) have failed to provide the allowance to eligible citizens. According to Local Development Officer Sivaram Pokharel, the DDC has been repeatedly demanding that the Ministry allocate Rs 33,479,000, which is outstanding under the social security allowance head.

“Complaints about the allowance are frequent at our office. We have not received the budget despite frequent requests to the Ministry,” said Pokharel. He also informed that the allowance budget has fallen short as only one third of national budget has been sanctioned and most of this was spent on development work. Last year, Rs 286,594,800 was allocated for social security allowance in the district.

“It has been two month since the new fiscal year started. However, we are yet to receive the allowance budget from the ministry. We are planning to allocate some money before the Dashain festival and are looking for alternatives,” Pokharel informed.

Meanwhile, investigations are yet to be initiate into misappropriations of social security allowance in the district. Last year, senior citizen allowances in the name of 25 people in the district were found to have been allocated even one and half years after their deaths. Locals have been accusing the VDC secretaries of taking the amount themselves through the use of fake vouchers.

“We have information about misuse of the allowance. I will take stock of things,” said Pokharel. The DDC is yet to update data on people eligible for the allowance even though two month of the new fiscal year has already elapsed.

Source: Republica Daily, September 19, 2012

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