Who is responsible for taking care of the elderly?
Everywhere in the world, the well-being of their children is the primary concern of parents. Thereafter, when the parents grow old, it should be time for the children to look after the parents.
In order to ensure social security of senior citizens and to tackle the global population ageing issue, the government enacted the Maintenance of Parents Act 2013. This law makes adult children responsible for the maintenance of their elderly parents.
The breaking down of the traditional joint-family structures due to urbanization, migration, unemployment, and various other socio-economic reasons have contributed greatly to the reduction of the familial support to the elderly. As a result, Maintenance of Parents Act is considered one of the most progressive laws in Bangladesh.
If any person does not provide proper maintenance to his/her parents without any logical reason or compels them to live in the old home or elsewhere, the parents may lodge a complaint and the offenders could be held liable under the Maintenance of Parents Act 2013. According to this act, maintenance includes food, clothing, medical facilities, accommodation, and company given by the child.
The children will have to meet regularly with their parents if they live separately. Every child must provide a logical amount of money for maintenance from their earnings.
Any person in violation of these provisions shall be subjected to a fine of Tk1 lakh, and, in default of money, they will be liable to imprisonment for three months. Moreover, if the wife or husband of any child, or any other relatives, hamper or provoke the maintenance being provided, they shall also be liable to the same punishment. The offence, however, may be resolved in private.
With all of its positive sides, the Maintenance of Parents Act 2013, however, does have some defects. As per the act, except for the parents, no one else can make any complaints. The act does not provide any procedure for the grandparents to make any complaints. The act does not clarify the situations in which the parents fail to fulfil their parental obligations, and whether, in such circumstances, the child is still liable to pay for the maintenance.
Moreover, the act only refers to biological parents.
The act directly resorts to punishment of the violators even before giving the children a formal order to comply with the provisions.
According to last year’s Law Commission report, the children might have logical reasons for not being able to maintain the parents and, therefore, the government should take responsibility for those whose children are not alive or for whom there is no other option for maintenance.
In its report, the commission said the provision of punishment should not be kept within the law, as maintenance of parents is directly related to the children, and that it should focus more on financial penalty. The commission also recommended that the cases filed under this act should be disposed of by the family courts.
The act does not specify by whom or how “reasonable” an amount of money is to be paid by the children.
Although the age-dependency ratio seems normal in Bangladesh, due to high unemployment rates, the overall situation is actually quite difficult to grasp -- which makes it even more difficult for the general masses to take responsibility for the elderly.
It is our moral duty to care for our senior citizens so that they can pass their old age with respect, care, and security. At the same time, the government is responsible for taking care of all its citizens. The government should, therefore, come forward with more meaningful assistance to care for the elderly population.
Sabrina Zarin is a Partner in FM Associates and an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.