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(Jul 19, 2012) It was reported on July 16, 2012, that Zimbabwe's House of Assembly, the lower house of the country's 313-member bicameral Parliament, passed the Older Persons Bill, legislation aimed at ensuring the welfare of the elderly community in Zimbabwe, ten years after it was first introduced. (Parliament Adopts Older Persons Bill, THE HERALD (July 16, 2012); Zimbabwe to Pass Older Persons Bill into Law, AFRICA LEGAL BRIEF (Apr. 9, 2012).) Before it can become law, the legislation will need to pass the upper house and obtain presidential assent. (Constitution of Zimbabwe (as amended on Feb. 13, 2009), § 51, KUBATANA.NET.)

In a speech to the House of Assembly, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, Paurina Mpariwa, highlighted the importance of the legislation, which is the first of its kind in the country. She described it as part of the country's "social protection strategy to provide for the needs of the elderly." She further noted:

    This is made more important because currently, after working for most of their lives and contributing to the country's economic development there is no specific social security mechanism or pension covering the generality of older persons. Also older persons remain the only category of vulnerable persons whose well-being is not provided for by an Act of Parliament. (Parliament Adopts Older Persons Bill, supra.)

To illustrate her point, she noted that children are covered by the Children's Act (Ch. 5:06, International Organization for Migration Zimbabwe website (last visited July 17, 2012)) and the disabled by the Disabled Persons Act (Ch. 17:01, REFWORLD (last visited July 18, 2012)).

The proposed legislation seeks to establish an Older Persons Board. The Board, which will consist of a Director and 13-17 members appointed by the Minister of Labor and Social Services with the approval of the head of state, will have various functions, including:

  • making sure that older persons (citizens age 65 or above) have access to basic necessities as well as community, health, and social services;
  • empowering older persons to maintain their independence;
  • preventing age-based discrimination against older persons;
  • helping establish care and social centers for the welfare of older persons;
  • monitoring institutions that provide services to older persons; and
  • implementing international treaties that affect the wellbeing of older people and to which Zimbabwe is a party. (Older Persons Bill, 2011, H.B. 1, 2011, §§ 24 & 7, KUBATANA.NET, (Sept. 23, 2011).)

The legislation includes provisions on the distribution of social welfare assistance to needy older persons. It authorizes the Director of Older Persons Affairs to distribute social welfare assistance to certain older persons, including those with physical or mental handicaps; those suffering from serious illnesses; those in the care of indigent persons; and those who need assistance for any other reason. (Id. § 9.)

The legislation seeks to establish the Older Persons Fund to finance the above-listed functions. This fund will be used to finance the social welfare assistance that the Director of Older Persons Affairs will grant. (Id. § 10.) It will also pay for various programs that will be devised to promote the "well-being, welfare, care and protection of older persons." (Id.) It will be funded through regular Parliamentary appropriations and other sources, including gifts. (Id.)

The legislation also includes provisions designed to protect older persons from abuse. It prohibits the denial of access to any premises, services, or opportunities to anyone on the basis of their age. (Id. § 12.) Violation of this ban is an offense punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. (Id. § 13.) The legislation also prohibits any violation of an older person's fundamental rights and freedoms, as guaranteed by law, including the right to dignity, personal beliefs, privacy, and independence. (Id. § 12.) A violation of this protection will entitle an older person to damages, in addition to other legal remedies. (Id. § 13.)

At the time of life in which elderly persons typically need help, the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe has forced many of them to care for other vulnerable members of the society, mostly their sick children and their orphaned grandchildren. (Overview of the Environment Under Which the Elderly Are Living in, HelpAge Zimbabwe website (last visited Jul. 17, 2012).) HelpAge International/United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) 2007 data shows that two-thirds of people living with HIV and AIDS live under the care of parents in their sixties and seventies. (Elderly Battle as Government Promises Help but Cannot Pay, THE ZIMBABWEAN (Mar. 14, 2012).) The elderly also take care of 40-60% of orphans and vulnerable children, with an average of three children per household. (Id.) In addition, the elderly are subjected to various forms of physical and psychological abuse, including rape and accusations of witchcraft, that often result in banishment. (AFRICA LEGAL BRIEF, supra.)

Author: Hanibal Goitom More by this author
Topic: Social security More on this topic
Jurisdiction: Zimbabwe More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 07/19/2012