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Friday, 28 April, 2000, 18:45 GMT 19:45 UK
Misery of South Asian elderly
Rickshaw-puller in Calcutta
Most of the workforce is on daily wages
By South Asia correspondent Kamal Ahmed

A United Nations report has said that poverty was the main reason that compelled most South Asians to retire without any pension or social security.

The report, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), says that the misery of old people is worst in developing and transitional economies.

The author of the report, Colin Gillion, says that until the governments of South Asia succeed in reducing poverty significantly, the future for its ageing population remains uncertain.

The ILO say that South Asia is similar to other developing nations, in that the majority of its workforce is self-employed or hired on a daily basis.

No pension

Mr Gillion says that most of the workers are in the agricultural sector and earn too little to save for the future.

A farm worker in Pakistan
Farm workers earn too little to save
Workers in smaller units, which have less than 10 employees, do not usually receive pensions.

Neither do thousands of South Asians who work in the Middle East.

Mr Gillion says that it is crucial for South Asian governments to extend pension coverage to these people.

Traditionally family interdependence in the sub-continent has been strong, which has helped in part to offset the fact that few people have pensions.

The ILO says that this extended family network is also coming under increasing pressure from modernisation and other economic pressures.

Problem for elderly

The organisation says this has led to more old people being abandoned and left to fend for themselves.

Old man from Rajasthan
The elderly are left to fend for themselves
The problem was vividly illustrated last year in the Indian state of Kerala.

Four old men launched a court case in which they argued that they should be allowed to commit suicide, because they did not want to live in an undignified way or without care.

Kerala has the highest ratio of people aged above 60 years India, where the national percentage is about 7%.

In Bangladesh, the number of people above 60 is around 5%.

The number of elderly people in the rest of the South Asia is similar to that in India.

Role of the state

Most South Asian countries including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka do have private financial institutions which have introduced various pension schemes for individuals.

The public sector also operates a pension scheme for its employees.

A minority of old people may sometimes be eligible for state funds available to some disadvantaged groups.

In 1998, the Bangladeshi government started paying $2 per month to people aged 60 or above.

However, the ILO says that a significant improvement in the lives of old people cannot take place without significant poverty reduction throughout South Asia.

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17 Mar 00 | South Asia
Fighting poverty in Bangladesh
13 Dec 99 | South Asia
Unicef warning for India
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