In Malawi, the government and humanitarian NGOs are backing efforts to help relieve problems linked to growing older. From Blantyre, VOA English to Africa Service’s Lameck Masina reports that a global network of NGOs working to promote the rights of older people says their burdens have increased.
The network, called Help Age International, says for example that over half of the orphans in southern Africa live with their grandparents.
In Malawi, statistics indicate that about 13 percent of the country’s children have lost their parents mainly to HIV/AIDS, leaving many orphans in the care of their grandparents.
Most of them cannot afford to support both themselves and their grandchildren, and that forces many of the orphans into the street to beg for money.
A 2003 study by the Ministry of Development and the University of Malawi found that despite the contributions of the elderly to society, some people regard them as witches or wizards. As a result, some communities pay little attention to their welfare. It also found that many adults neglect their elderly parents when leaving rural areas in search of jobs, and many do not send remittances.
Helen Chasowa wants to change that. She is the executive director of an NGO that helps support older people, the Elderly Association of Malawi:
“As of now, their rights are fully being respected because we have been going around sensitizing the community and now people do understand the rights of the elderly. They are being taken to hospitals whenever they are sick by their youngsters.”
Chasowa says her organization also helps in other ways, “We have given the elderly some clothing, medication, some food, clean water in their homes and eight day care centers.”
She says the government is also looking for small ways to make their lives easier. For example, during voter registration exercises, the elderly go to the head of the queue, rather than waiting for hours like everyone else. With the help of donors, the government is also implementing a cash-transfer project that has been extended from the central district of Mchinji in 2006 to other parts of the country. The project provides a monthly stipend for families headed by older people. Under the terms of the effort, households receive from $4 to $13 per month, depending on the number of children.
By the end of March 2008, about 12,000 households across the country benefited from the cash transfer.
Among the donors behind the effort are the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria provided $371,000 for the effort. Other contributors include the World Bank, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation and the Department for International Development of the Canadian International Development Agency. Also, the parliament is drafting a social protection policy, that would provide pensions to the elderly and those with disabilities and help raise their standard of living. Under the policy, people over 65 would likely receive pensions, which today only go to retired civil servants, about 20 percent of the population.
Universal pensions have also been successfully introduced in other southern African countries, including Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and South Africa.