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January 17, 2019

What is the state's obligation to senior citizens?

The country was recently treated to an embarrassing situation when the media highlighted the plight of veteran thespian Mzee Ojwang. Many Kenyans were furious that the government is not taking good care of its citizens in old age, and more so those who have contributed significantly in various spheres.

Article 57 of the constitution was meant to make provisions for the senior citizens. It provides that the state shall take measures to ensure the rights of older persons to fully participate in the affairs of society; to pursue their personal development; to live in dignity and respect and be free from abuse; and to receive reasonable care and assistance from the family and the state.

Article 27 outlaws all forms of discrimination on the basis of age. However, there is no legislation that looks into the issues of these vulnerable members of our community.

The Senior Citizens Care and Protection Bill (2014) has taken us closer to the enactment of a law that will make express provisions for them. The Bill provides that a senior citizen is a person who has attained the age of 65 years. This Bill will give effect to the provisions of Article 57.

Both the national and county governments will be required to promote the care, maintenance and protection of senior citizens in Kenya.

The bill provides for some rights of senior citizens like right to family and community care, right to participate in the affairs of their communities and in any position suitable and based on their interest and capabilities. They also have a right to access social and legal services for the enhancement of the rights to live in dignity and security.

They also have a right to take part in activities that promote their social, physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Senior citizens will receive reasonable care, assistance and protection from their family and the state. Community-based and home-based care programmes will be put in place at both county and national levels to ensure this is achieved.

Clause 13 of the bill prohibits the physical and mental abuse of a senior citizen. It further provides such abuse includes economic, psychological and physical abuse and any conduct that violates the sexual integrity of a senior citizen. It will be an offense to break this law and if found guilty, one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine not exceeding one million or to both.

Kenyans of goodwill should therefore drum up support for this bill; It is a great step forward in the protection of older members of our society.

Protecting the senior citizen will have a financial or economic burden on the state. However, we cannot place a price to the great contribution that the senior citizens have made to make Kenya what it is today. We shall no longer watch the likes of Mzee Ojwang suffer the way he is suffering at his old age.

The burden of the senior citizens falls squarely on all of us as individuals and the state. We should not watch this special interest group suffer from loss of dignity. We are all headed there. The family has to show love to these people; they need the warmth the family gives.

In addition, all medical facilities should embrace them and give them discounts if they have to pay hospital bills.

We should not consign them to the homes for the old. This should be the last resort for families. Age cannot and will never take away humanity.

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