Nepal considers making adults financially responsible for parents

Nepal old age home
A woman who lives in Nisadhya Sewa Sadan, an old age home, makes string out of raw cotton in reverence to god during prayer and worship. She earns 1,500 Nepalese rupees (about $14.64) a month by selling the string around the Pashupatinath Temple. (Photo by Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal)

By Yam Kumari Kandel, Senior Reporter

KATHMANDU, NEPAL — When Dil Kumari Regmi’s son got married, she says she liked his wife.

In 2013, with her two daughters already married, she gave her son, the only one who could inherit, 12 ropani (6,105 square meters) of land, half of the family’s ancestral land. But he immediately sold it and used the money to build a three-story house in Balaju, a suburb of Kathmandu.

Their new home had no room for her, she says.

Regmi didn’t move in with her son and daughter-in-law until she broke her leg in November 2014 and they took her in during her recovery. But relations were strained.

“My daughter-in-law used to make me clean dishes after having meals. If I did not clean dishes, she would not feed me for four days,” she says.

Arguments between her son, Rajan Regmi, and his wife became regular. Dil Kumari Regmi says she was the reason for the quarrels.

“So, I left the house and came to this old age home for the betterment of my son,” she says.

She arrived at Nisadhya Sewa Sadan, an old age home on the banks of the Bagmati River, in August 2015. She has not seen her son, daughter-in-law or granddaughter since.

Rajan Regmi paid a fee of 100,000 Nepalese rupees (about $975) for his mother to stay in the home.

Despite her sadness, Dil Kumari Regmi says she will still transfer the ownership of her remaining 5 ropani (2,544 square meters) of land to her son after she dies.

Dil Kumari Regmi
Dil Kumari Regmi, 84, is firing string made of row cotton at Nisadhya Sewa Sadan, an old age home on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo by Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal)

She is not alone. The old age home is filled to capacity with elderly people who say they were neglected or abandoned by their adult children.

As Dil Kumari Regmi narrates her story, her back is bent and covered in tattered clothes. She squints and her face is wrinkled. She says she needs new glasses.

An amendment before Nepal’s new government seeks to make adult children legally responsible for their aging parents. If approved by the cabinet, children would be required to pay 10 percent of their income toward their parents’ care.

Lingering in the cabinet since 2006, the amendment was put forward by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare in the hopes of protecting elderly citizens, who find themselves turned out by family at a much higher rate than in previous generations.

The government has been providing a social security allowance to seniors above the age of 70 since 1995. Today the allowance is 2,000 rupees ($19.50) per month. But that sum is insufficient to provide for many basic needs. The number of people over the age of 60 accounts for approximately 8 percent of the population, according to the Nepal Population Census of 2011.

Purnima Koirala, an undersecretary who heads the legal unit of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, says the ministry introduced the amendment to the Senior Citizens Act because many elderly Nepalese are facing challenges that range from health issues to hunger and homelessness.

Koirala says the proposed amendment will attach civil penalties to elder abuse and neglect. Families who neglect or abuse an elderly parent, place them in a home against their will, force them to beg on the streets or who gain property transfer through coercion or deceit can be fined up to 30,000 rupees based on the severity of the instance.

Other clauses in the proposed amendment suggest that elderly parents should give 80 percent of their property to their children, keeping 20 percent to live on or earn income from renting. Currently parents can give 100 percent of their land.

“With this provision, elderly people can live off of the money from selling the properties that they own,” she says.

On the ground floor of Nisadhya Sewa Sadan, Krishna Chandra Shrestha sits quietly on an old sofa with the support of a stick.

Though he has 13 ropani (6,613 square meters) of land and a big family, he says fate cheated him.

Shrestha was planning to sell his land and build a house in Kathmandu, but a fire consumed his property, including 3 million rupees ($29,252) in cash that he had kept in his house. He was left with nothing.

“After the three-story house burnt into ashes, my sons came to Kathmandu on their own while I collected donations. And later, I came to Kathmandu on my own,” he says.

Shrestha went to many old age homes in Kathmandu in search of shelter but could not find a place with room. Finally, five years ago, he found space at Nisadhya Sewa Sadan. He says his three sons and three daughters also live in Kathmandu, but he does not know where they live.

This level of neglect would be criminalized if the amendment is passed.

Local laws here require parents to give property to their children, but there has never before been a requirement for children to provide for their elderly parents, says Bimala Khadka, a lawyer with the Forum for Women, Law and Development.

She says senior citizens have been suffering in recent years as their adult children embrace the concept of the nuclear family, rather than intergenerational living.

“The root of the problem is a mind-set that property is needed, but the father and mother are not,” she says.

Khadka has informally dealt with cases of 25 families, requiring adult children to sign informal contracts, which are not legally binding, agreeing to provide 5,000 rupees ($48.76) per month after their parents transfer ownership of their property, a process she hopes will be formalized if the amendment passes.

Sagar Ghimire, GPJ, translated this article from Nepali.

This article was published through a partnership with Global Press Journal.

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