THE rights of the elderly was among issues that were repeatedly presented to members of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) that visited Lindi Region recently.
A resident of Miteja Village in Kilwa District, Mr Said Mohamed Chibugila, expressed deep concern over the plight of elderly people in Tanzania and appealed for pension to all senior citizens in the country.
"All those who are over 60 years and above, who are poor should be given a reasonable amount of money as pension to ensure that they live decently and have free access to health services.
"Pension should not be restricted to those who were in formal employment, but be extended to men and women who earned their living as farmers in villages and the self-employed in some urban centres," Mr Chibugila told members of CRC team.
Mr Chibugula was not alone in his appeal as several people in Lindi Urban, Lindi Rural, Nachingwea and Liwale districts called for support to senior citizens. Several others said many senior citizens aged 60 years old and above in rural areas were facing many hardships for lack of money and are denied access to important services including medical care.
Mr Ramadhani Shaweji said even those who were in formal employment, especially those in junior positions, are given peanuts that can hardly enable them to get food that is enough to feed themselves for a week and as a result many die few years, if not months, after retirement.
Several analysts after numerous studies have called upon the government to review the country's policy on the elderly, particularly their protection, in line with the prevailing international standards prescribed by the United Nations.
The National Aging Policy of 2003, defines old age as the final stage in human growth. The United Nations Principles of Older Persons rights include participation, care, independence, selffullment and dignity. These principles were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly by Resolution 37/5 of December 3, 1982.
Current United Nations figures estimate that there will be more people over the age of 60 than children under 15 years old within 36 years globally. It is estimated that the number of elder people in 2050 will be over 2 billion or 22 per cent of the global population, an unprecedented doubling of the present 11 per cent of the population that is over 7 billion.
In Tanzania, the current population of people who are 60 years old and above are about 2.3 million, approximately 18 per cent of the elderly population live with other elderly persons and around 11 per cent live with children.
This means 660,000 elderly are living in households without adults of prime working age. It should be noted that Tanzania currently has the highest population of persons of above 60 years in the East African region with 5.1 per cent in 2005, which is expected to increase up to 10.7 per cent by 2050, according to the latest report of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC).
During the CRC meeting many people, especially those with advanced age pushed for people's right to social protection. Social protection is a form of insurance that provides protection against socially-recognised conditions like poverty, old age, disability and unemployment.
Social protection in the context of elderly people includes the pensions that guarantee a minimum standard of living to the elderly people. This protection is a basic human right and it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that older people enjoy this right.
This right is provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 under Article 26(1): "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing and housing and medical care and necessary social services and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."
REPOA in its study in 2010, observed that a universal social pension would be affordable and feasible way of reducing old-age poverty in Tanzania and contributing to the country's development.
The REPOA study found out a monthly pension of 16,000/- (about US$10) would significantly reduce the poverty rate of older people by more than half or 57.9 per cent. The organisation points out that there are several other African countries with social pensions including Kenya, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, the Seychelles, South Africa and Swaziland.
In Tanzania, older women are hardest hit in terms of human rights and are vulnerable to victimisation on patriachial bias and witchcraft beliefs. The rights of older women have been provided for in many international commitments such as the Vienna International Plan of Action on Aging, the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action and the United Nations Principles for Older Persons.
Cases of killings of older women in Tanzania are reportedly declining. LHRC says in its latest report that comparing to 2009, there are a few incidents of witchcraft killings related to elder women that were reported in 2010. Between 2003 and 2008, a total number of 2,866 women were killed due to witchcraft beliefs in Tanzania.
However, these killings still exist and more efforts should be directed to the Lake Zone, where the problem seems to be dominant. The government needs to work in collaboration with the civil society. In a few cases that were reported, the regions of Kagera, Mwanza and Mara continued to lead in the incidents related to witchcraft beliefs in 2010.