Burma’s elders forced onto the streets

Like many other Southeast Asian countries, Burma has an aging population. It is estimated that 25 percent of its people will be over the age of 60 by 2050.

In Rangoon, the high cost of living has forced more and more people onto the streets to beg – and increasingly many of them are elderly.

Those who are too old to work, have no family, or financial assistance have little alternative but to beg to survive.

Grandma Mya can be seen begging in all weather. She used to sell goods at the market but had to stop working when she lost her sight. She has a strong pride and independence, and doesn’t want to be put in a home.

“My daughter died six years ago,” she said. “My sons live far away and I don’t even know if they’re still alive or not.”

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Nine percent of Burma’s population is currently aged 60 or older, and over half of them are dependent on their children for financial support.

“I feel bad when I see them. I think about my parents and I always try to give some donation,” said Sane Sane, a Rangoon resident.

Elders do get social welfare from the state if they stay in homes for the aged or care centres. But some of them run away because their families depend upon them and they earn more money begging than staying at the centres.

Recently, Rangoon city authorities began arresting beggars to get them off the streets.

But Aung Htun Khine from the Welfare Department says this kind of operation doesn’t deal with the real issue.

“When they see elderly people begging in the street, they perceive this as an embarrassment for the country and disgrace to our cities, so they send them off to other areas. But this does not solve the issue,” said Aung Htun Khine.

As families find it harder to take care of aging family members, those needing care from the state is due to increase.

But unless more extensive social welfare programmes are initiated that provide enough to live on, many more elderly people who cannot work will have to resort to begging on the streets.

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