New rights for senior citizens

Amira Hisham , Tuesday 28 May 2024

Al-Ahram Weekly gauges public sentiment on a new law granting wider health, social, and financial care rights for the elderly.

New rights for senior citizens


President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has ratified Egypt’s new Elderly Rights Care Law, with its executive regulations expected to be issued within six months of its implementation. The Ministry of Social Solidarity is preparing a national strategy on its provisions.

The new law covers Egyptian citizens aged 65 and older, as well as foreign residents in Egypt who have reached the retirement age in their respective countries.

It guarantees access to social, political, health, economic, cultural, and recreational rights for the elderly and is also meant to raise community awareness and enable older people to participate in public affairs and the formation of policies related to their interests.

The law helps older people to interact with governmental and non-governmental agencies by designating specific service windows to save them time and effort.

Fayza, 61, a Cairo resident, said that she hopes the age requirement to qualify under the new law can be lowered.

As an informal worker without a fixed income, Fayza has sought to obtain conditional cash support through the Takaful and Karama (Solidarity and Dignity) programmes but was ineligible due to the age requirement. She was disappointed to learn that she does not qualify under the new law either.

Mohsen, 75, is bedridden with three children who support him financially and provide him with a live-in caregiver. However, he lacks companionship, as his children are preoccupied with their work. Mohsen hopes the new law will give his children additional rest hours or days of leave to spend more time with him.

Abdel-Meguid, who retired seven years ago, still has the energy to work and wishes he could find job opportunities, even if only at a symbolic salary. He suffers from loneliness and finds solace in work, and it was only recently that he discovered the clubs for the elderly provided by the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

He would like to see these clubs better advertised along with the services they offer.

“Nothing could be worse than a nursing home. It feels like a prison. My children pay the home I live in thousands a month, and they have sold the house I used to live in, the place that held all my memories, and replaced it with this place,” said Mahmoud, a 78-year-old former financial director in a government ministry.

 “They visit me occasionally, but I still feel they have thrown me out of their lives.”

Under the new law, elderly individuals cannot be admitted to nursing homes without their consent. Elderly persons without someone responsible for their care are exempt from the costs of their accommodation in social-care institutions for the elderly.

The law also grants the elderly partial exemptions on the cost of using state-owned public transport, as well as subscription fees for sports facilities, cultural centres, theatres, and some state-owned museums and archaeological sites.

Should an elderly person have legal difficulties, he or she will qualify for special assistance if necessary. The law requires the state to ensure detention facilities are equipped to accommodate the elderly.

Gamila, a married woman with three children, said her 75-year-old mother suffers from Parkinson’s disease and requires psychological support in addition to daily care and treatment for her illness. Unfortunately, this care is too expensive for Gamila to afford.

The new law grants comprehensive rights to health, psychological, and rehabilitation care for the elderly. It also ensures that they receive monthly assistance if they do not receive a pension.

It requires written, audio, and visual media platforms to promote a positive image of the elderly, highlight their contributions to society, and ensure that they receive proper preventive and therapeutic care.

An Elderly Care Fund will be established endowed with legal personality and reporting to the relevant minister. It is designed to provide social, economic, health, psychological, educational, and other forms of support.

Ahmed Fathi, deputy chair of the Social Solidarity Committee in the House of Representatives, the lower house of Egypt’s parliament, said that before the new law was approved the committee visited 30 elderly care homes, sports clubs, and popular coffee shops nationwide to gauge the needs of the elderly.

“The primary demand is for better healthcare, which aligns with Article 83 of the constitution that stipulates that the state must care for the health of citizens,” Fathi said. “The House of Representatives will be responsible for monitoring the implementation of the law on the ground.”

Talaat Abdel-Qawi, a member of the Social Solidarity Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “the law emphasises the need to expand nursing homes for the elderly and ensure their affordability for those who are financially disadvantaged. This is crucial given that many people work away from home and are unable to care for their ageing parents.”

There is dedicated health insurance, and there are entire hospitals specifically for the elderly, Abdel-Qawi said. Special care is provided for age-related diseases, prime among them Alzheimer’s.

Abdel-Qawi said the government will issue directives to facilitate the mobility of the elderly in public spaces. This includes roads, pavements, easily readable signs, and special road crossings for the elderly.  

Mahmoud Shaaban, director of the General Administration for Elderly Care at the Ministry of Social Solidarity, told the Weekly that the ministry is committed to the protection, security, and social care of the elderly.

Well-equipped accommodation that offers comprehensive social, health, recreational, and economic care at nursing homes is essential, he said. The ministry also provides health and home care through companions for the elderly who are professionals in their field.

Shaaban said it was important to protect the right of the elderly to independence and privacy, including their right to make decisions regarding their property and finances in coordination with other parties.

The ministry is committed to protecting the elderly from abuse or neglect, he said, noting that it provides special care through nursing homes, elderly clubs, and community integration initiatives.

Shaaban referred to Article 83 of the constitution, the National Strategy for Human Rights launched by President Al-Sisi, and the recently introduced law on the elderly. A Supreme Committee for the Elderly has been formed, he said, chaired by the minister of social solidarity and comprising members from the relevant ministries.

The committee is responsible for reviewing legislation, developing plans to protect the elderly, and evaluating the performance and quality of services.

There were nine million people in Egypt aged 60 or above, or 8.6 per cent of the population, in 2023, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS).

According to the 2022 Labour Force Survey, there were 1.2 million older people working in Egypt that year, representing 13.4 per cent of the elderly population.

In 2022, there were 166 care institutions for the elderly across the country, serving 4,719 people. There were 192 clubs for the elderly, benefiting 40,100 people, according to the Social Services Bulletin in 2022.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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