MASERU – Parenting is a challenge on its own, let alone to old people with failing health compelled by circumstances to look after their grandchildren or even great grandchildren bereft or simply abandoned by parents.
Matieho Molise aged 87 is one among many elderly people trapped with the heavy responsibility of looking after great grandchildren abandoned by their parents.
Molise, of Likhoele in Mafeteng is looking after her 15-month-old great grandchild whose mother disappeared three months ago without informing anyone where she was going.
All Molise’s children have died and she only has grandchildren for family who, instead of taking care of her, are leaving her to fend for herself.
Molise solely survives on the M720 government grant for the elderly.
Having been diagnosed with high blood pressure and arthritis a few years ago, almost her entire pension income is swallowed by her medication leaving nothing with which to look after the child.
While she says she has accepted her lot and is used to struggling, what worries her is that her great grandchild – already underweight due to malnutrition – is not achieving the milestones expected.
“At his age, he should be running around and uttering some words but he has done none of all this; all he does is eat and sleep.
“Three months ago before his mother left he got admitted in hospital for two weeks for malnutrition-related sickness and ever since then he has not picked up any weight because he does not have enough food and his mother left him while she was still breast feeding,” she said.
She noted that before the child was admitted to hospital, he had diarrhea, was weak and chronically underweight.
Molise and her great grandson stay in an unsanitary mud hut but the troubled old lady says lack of hygiene was at the bottom of her priority list.
“I neither have the strength nor the will to clean the house since I spend all my energy on finding food”, said Molise, who has three other grandchildren apart from the rebellious granddaughter who left her with a child.
None of them help her to mind the toddler in any way.
Instead, she relies on occasional handouts from kind neighbours who also often help to take the child to health facilities as he is regularly sick.
Apart from her advanced age, high blood pressure and arthritis also make it hard for her to walk long distances to the clinic, let alone allow her to be up-to-date with the exacting rigours of minding a sickly minor.
“I am struggling to take care of this child, but I cannot abandon him, I am the only person he has that can take care of him,” she said.
Molise’s neighbours confirmed that she has been struggling all by herself for a long time without any help from her family, further corroborating that her situation worsened after her granddaughter disappeared, leaving behind a sick and underweight son.
“We have been trying to help where possible but at times we fail because we too have our own challenges,” said Mamosa, one of the neighbours.
Director of Maseru Women Senior Citizens Association Malebohang Molete said safety nets for elderly people remain a challenge in Lesotho due to absence of laws that specifically protect them which of results rising incidence of abuse, rape and murder among the elderly.
The elderly are disregarded and denied the opportunity to make decisions on their own, Molete noted, also lamenting they are not only denied right to freedom of speech and right to own opinion but also endure cruel abuse on a daily basis perpetrated by strangers and their families alike.
Elders around the country live in fear for they have become regular victims of murder and rape with perpetrators often never found or punished in the absence of laws protecting older persons, she added.
Molete said as senior citizens, they also deserve to be safe, be treated with respect like everyone else and not be isolated because of their age.
“We need the same treatment even in social services like hospitals and others like any other age group.
“Currently when we get to hospitals we are normally told that we are sick because we are old while in actual fact any person from any age group can get sick.
“The doctors do not even check what is wrong with us and just assume that it is aging. That hurts so much,” she said.
“We also need to be respected despite our age and people should not treat us as though we are useless. We need laws that will address all the challenges senior citizens experience in the country which also include killings of elderly people under allegations of witchcraft.
“The other thing is that we should be allowed to have freedom of speech so that can choose what we want to say and make decisions that we see fit for ourselves,” Molete said, noting they should not be forced into doing some things but be allowed to be independent.
“We do not like being told what to wear or when to wear it. We know our bodies more than anyone else and can make better decisions concerning our bodies,” she said.
In addressing the challenges older persons face on a daily basis and to ensure their protection, the Ministry of Social Development has drafted the Older Persons Protection Bill, 2019 aimed to protect older persons and safeguard their rights.
The director in the Department of Elderly Care Services in the Ministry of Social Development, Rets’elisitsoe Tsuinyane, noted that the bill was drafted after the ministry realised that efforts taken to raise awareness against abuse of older persons and violation of their rights were futile as there was no law to hold perpetrators accountable.
She said in Lesotho there is no law that protects the elderly but only policies which are not binding to ensure that perpetrators are taken to court for mistreatment and abuse of the elderly.
“We have realised that raising awareness on the elderly’s protection without a binding law is useless.
“Since we started awareness campaigns on abuse of elderly people, not much was achieved because of lack of laws to protect them.
“The reasons we drafted the Bill include, among others, sexual and physical abuse of older people and discrimination and violations of their human rights.
“We see on a daily basis abuse and killings done to older people and we hope with this Bill the situation will change,” she said.
The Bill notes that without prejudice to their human rights, older persons shall have the right to autonomy and independence, including the right to decide their place of residence and with whom they will live.
It will also grant them the right to make decisions regarding their wellbeing without undue interference from any person or entity, to appoint a person of their choice to carry out their wishes and instructions and have the right to legal and social assistance in case of incapacity, in order to make decisions that are in their best interests and wellbeing.
The Act will also provide for older person’s full and effective participation in public, political, cultural, economic and development activities and decision-making at household, community and national levels.
According to the Bill, older persons will have the right to political or public life, including standing for elections and voting.
“Older persons shall have the right to freedom of expression and opinions, knowledge and experience, freedom of association and assembly including to form groups and associations for political, income generating, cultural and religious ends for the protection of their interests and participate in all areas of their interest.
“Older persons shall have full rights to deal with property including to own, use, occupy, transfer, sell, inherit and distribute land and other properties.
“They will again have the right to protection from arbitrary or unlawful seizure of their property, will have access to effective remedies to provide redress for arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of property and have protection from traditional widowhood practices which deprive women of property and inheritance rights.
“They will further have the right to justice including to be afforded a hearing within a reasonable time, with special measures in situations of immediacy and will be provided with legal services including legal assistance and legal aid on equal bases as others.
“They will be afforded freedom from all forms of violence, torture and abuse,” reads the bill.
Police Public Relations Officer Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said they do receive cases of abused and murdered elders even though he does not have the exact number of cases reported this year.
He, however, noted current laws in the country do not exclude elders so he is of the view that they are protected.
Mopeli said any person that abuse or murder an elderly person is arrested and charged by courts of Law.