India to punish children abandoning elderly parents

Indians who neglect ageing parents could be jailed under a new law passed by parliament on Thursday amid growing elderly mistreatment in a country long known for revering the old.

India to punish children abandoning elderly parents

Elderly people are increasingly being regarded in India as a burden as nuclear families become the norm against the backdrop of rapid economic development that is fast breaking down traditions.

"With the joint family system withering away, the elderly are being abandoned," Meira Kumar, social justice minister in the Congress party-led government, told parliament.

The legislation provides for a three months' jail term if children do not look after old parents, Kumar said, who added "the penal provision is meant to act as a deterrent."

India is a young country with a massive 51 percent of its 1.1 billion population younger than 25, and two-thirds below the age of 35.

But the number of elderly people is also growing with 113 million Indians expected to be older than 60 by 2016, up from 81 million now.

That figure is seen swelling to 179 million by 2026.

There are frequent reports in the Indian media of the elderly being abandoned or mistreated by their grown-up offspring.

The legislation stated "that old age has become a major social challenge and there is need to give more attention to care and protection of older persons."

"Many older persons... are now forced to spend their twilight years all alone and are exposed to emotional neglect and lack of physical and financial support," the bill said.

The new law, which provides for the setting up of many tribunals to provide speedy help to the old in distress, contains no room for appeal.

"This has been done deliberately as they (the children) have a lot of resources which the old people do not have," Kumar said.

The legislation also provides for the state to set up old age homes that the minister said should be the "last resort for the poor and the childless."

The bill applies to adult children with parents over the age of 60.

Legislators lamented the need for the legislation.

"Things have come to such a pass now that the old have to petition the government for care and help. What kind of a life is that?" said Gyan Prakash Pilania, a member of the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Reports about mistreatment of the elderly range from the macabre to the tragic.

Earlier this month, the Calcutta Telegraph said police caught a man striking a deal with doctors and an organ-transplant broker to sell his aged and unsuspecting father's kidney, first taking him to hospital for a "check-up" and then telling him he needed an operation.

Doctors were quoted as saying such a practice was commonplace.

Earlier this year in the southern city of Hyderabad, the well-off family of a 75-year-old cancer patient decided to burn her alive at a crematorium because they did not want to pay for further treatment.

She was saved when the crematorium staff noticed her stir and called police.

At the other end of the spectrum, many elderly are abandoned at railway stations and crematoriums by poor offspring who can't afford their care.

In New Delhi alone, non-governmental organisation HelpAge India receives 300 complaints a month of bad treatment, including from parents whose children have taken their property but won't care for them.

HelpAge has welcomed the legislation but has also said it may have little practical effect.

Most parents are too demoralised, destitute or frail -- or all three -- to begin a battle to get a ruling, HelpAge's chief executive Matthew Cherian told AFP recently.

Also "very few people will want to wash their problems in public," he said.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 07 Aralık 2007, 15:40