The Parliament passes the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill on December 11th, 2019. This amends the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.
Why is this Act and its Amendment Needed?
There are nearly 114 million older adults in India. According to a survey, more than 71% of these seniors undergo some form of abuse. Some of the abuse might even be unintentional but is abuse nonetheless.
Older adults are often considered to be the weaker section of the society. So others are likely to harass, mistreat, or humiliate them more. Many times, their own family members like children, in-laws, siblings, nephews or nieces and other relatives are abusers. In some cases, caretakers or servants can also abuse the elderly. While physical abuse is most notable, emotional and financial abuse often are overlooked. Neglect and isolation are forms of abuse too. Many children and grandchildren inadvertently do not devote time to their parents or grandparents, leading to the seniors feeling neglected and lonely.
Many older adults mistake abuse as a part of growing old. In fact, many parents and grandparents do not wish to report abuse because they fear societal of familial rejection or even more abuse. On the other hand, many older adults are not aware of the laws that protect their interests. They do not know who to approach and keep quiet.
What Does the Amendment Include?
The key features of this Amendment are:
- Definition: In the 2007 Act, the term children referred to children and grandchildren, excluding minors. In the Amendment, the term extends to step-children, adoptive children, children-in-law, and the legal guardians of minor children.
- If a senior citizen is childless, a relative who possesses or will inherit his/her property after death is defined as the legal heir, excluding minors. This relative is responsible for the care of the older adult.
- The 2007 Act defines parents to be biological, adoptive, or step-parents. The new Act expands the definition to parents-in-law and grandparents.
- Maintenance and Welfare: Under the Act, maintenance is defined as the provision of food, clothes, shelter, medical attendance and treatment. Welfare is defined as the provision of food, healthcare and other basic amenities needed for senior citizens. The Amendment amends the definition of:
- Monthly Maintenance: The Amendment removed the ceiling on the Rs. 10,000 monthly maintenance amount allotted for senior citizens and parents. The fee is decided on the basis of
- The standard of living and the earning of the parent or senior citizen
- The earnings of the children
- Children/relatives/caregivers have to deposit the maintenance amount with the relevant parent or senior citizen within 15 days of being ordered to do so instead of 30 days mentioned in the 2007 Act.
- Appeals: There are state-wise maintenance Tribunals that look over maintenance fee issues. Parents, senior citizens, children, and relatives are allowed to appeal the decisions of the Tribunal.
- Offenses and Penalties: According to the Act, abandonment of a parent or a senior citizen is an offense punishable with imprisonment of up to three months, or a fine of up to Rs. 5,000, or both. The Amendment increases the penalty to imprisonment between three to six months or a fine of up to Rs. 10,000, or both.
- Maintenance Officer: The Act provides a maintenance officer to represent a parent or senior citizen during the proceedings of the Tribunal. The Amendment requires the maintenance officer to
- Ensure compliance with orders on maintenance payments
- Act as a liaison for parents or senior citizens
- Old Age Homes: The Amendment provides for old age homes set up by government AND private organizations. These homes must be registered with a registration authority by the state government. These senior citizen care homes must comply with the standards set by the central government, such as food, infrastructure, and medical facilities.
- Healthcare: The Act brought into force separate queues, beds, and facilities for older adults in government hospitals. The Amendment requires all hospitals, including private ones, to provide the same. Homecare facilities will be provided for senior citizens with disabilities.
- Protection: Every police station should have at least one officer equal to or above the rank of Assistant Sub-Inspector to deal with the issues related to parents and senior citizens. State governments should form a special police unit for older adults in every district. The unit will be headed by a police officer, not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
With these amendments, the quality of life of senior citizens in India can improve significantly. Elderly abuse will reduce and the well-being of older adults will be ensured. Older adults also need to live a respectful life and this Amendment will see to it that they are comfortable and safe in their homes.
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