Saima Afreen in conversation with India representative of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Frederika Meijer who was in the city to present her paper at the 12th Global Conference of Ageing.
The representative of UNFPA India and Country Director for Bhutan, Frederika Meijer who was in the city for the 12th Global Conference of Ageing caught up with Cityplus about the issue of old age in India, significance of compilation of data on old population, UNFPA’s plans for India and her childhood memories of visiting her grandparents in an old age home back in Holland.
She currently leads the positioning of IFPA on strategic and substantive issues in the country.
At the 12th Global Conference of Ageing organized by International Federation on Ageing, Frederika shared, “Ten years ago we started collecting data on ageing population as there was no data available on the same. One of our mandates is to collect data on development which is very important for all policy makers to embark on how many elderly people are there in India. The policy makers need to have data. What we have done is to select a number of papers and compile the same in a book which is called Population Ageing in India.” The publisher of the book is Cambridge University Press. The book explores socio-economic strata of elderly health, work participation and contribution to income generation. Moreover, the book focuses on national old age policy in practice and policy initiatives that are taken in India and other Asian countries.
She added, “Twenty years back International Conference on Population and Fund (ICPD) was started. Now we are looking at how much we have proceeded in the objective which was stated in the ICPD programme of action. We see that the ageing population has not received its due attention which it should have received. Ageing population, earlier, was an emerging issue but now it is right in front of us. The date compilation will help India identify diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.” The data compilation focuses on how government can prepare to deal with such issues. At the same time, there is a need to do work on pension for the old age people.
IFA – a platform for world ageing population
In other countries the model for old age home is very costly. Hence, platforms like IFA bring Asia and European countries together for exchange of models. Frederika elaborates, “It has two directions. India can show the way forward to the world and vice versa. In European countries, we see old age homes but they are not always cost effective for the elderly people. Asia can play a very important role in home-based care-giving as it is more cost effective.
Mid-day meals for elderly and other UNFPA plans
UNFPA is doing a lot of advocacy work for policy dialogues as Frederika informs, “We debate with the policy makers and focus on how we can provide a linkage between young people and old people. India needs to prepare itself. Feminization of ageing is very important, be it sending girls to school and edifying them for a strong future. Women have to be involved in health care issues as they can take care of the elderly and this, obviously, will target two population brackets.”
While everybody talks about mid-day meals for children, Frederika talked about mid-day meals for the elderly and pension schemes so that they can live the twilight years of their lives with respect and dignity. She said, “It’s tough on human dignity to depend on somebody for a small amount of money.” This is combined in the five year plan that UNFPA has for India. Behind every data there is a face. “People especially the youngsters have to see this face,” she added.
Last year UNFPA had launched a reproductive health and life skills education programme to fulfill the reproductive rights of women and marginalized communities. UNFPA works with four ministries viz., of Education, Health, Child Development & Women’s Affairs and Youth & Sports. The focus is on education of girl child. She informed, “In India, 42% of the girls are married below the age of 18. Delaying that age of marriage is important as well as delaying her age for the first child. It is very important. We are finding more strategies to bring into this.
On ageing population in Holland, her own country
Holland is the size of New Delhi. Ageing population is growing fast over there as well. Frederika shared her childhood experience she had with her grandmother. “When I was sixteen years old, after school I would visit my grandmother in old age home. I’d talk to her and take her out for a walk. I noticed that ten out of the twenty people over there did not have visitors and it was sad,” she reminisced. She emphasized on the need of an exchange of experiences between the youngsters and elderly people.
“The stories can be shared. Children and young people can ask their grandparents how the city was in their time. I still remember my grandmother sharing her experience on seeing the first man walking on the moon as she saw it on TV.”
" Ageing population, earlier, was an emerging issue but now it is right in front of us
Frederika Meijer, UNFPA"