Posted on July 22nd, 2018

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

The elderly population (over 60 years) in Sri Lanka amounted to 2.5 million or 12.5% of the total population in 2012.  In three years or by 2021, Sri Lanka’s elderly population is expected to increase to 3.5 million (this compares roughly with the total population of Colombo and Kandy districts in combination). The large majority of the elderly in Sri Lanka live under most despicable conditions. Neglect from all sides, children and relatives, the Government and inability to cope with rising cost of living are making their lives not worth living. Increasing numbers of the older population are resorting to suicide as an escape from their unhappy lives. Most of these older individuals are having everything taken away from them in terms of their work, their health, their families, friends, and find their role totally diminished. For some of them, taking their own life is the only option that they have. Suicide rates are particularly high in farming areas and in commercial plantations particularly among the elderly men. Hanging themselves and consumption of insecticides and pesticides, were the primary modes of their suicide.

Among primary reasons for this sad plight are isolation, poverty, chronic health problems such as diabetes, heart conditions, kidney malfunction, depression and frustration and lack of necessary health and welfare services, acute financial burdens with the rising cost of living, broken family bonds, migration of children overseas, and lack of care from the government.

The vast majority of families, owing to diverse reasons, mainly financial, find it difficult to care for the elderly. All Governments in recent decades have failed to provide for the elderly. It is disgraceful that the present Ministry of Social Empowerment provides a mere Rs 25,000 to each of the few elderly care centres in the country. There are nearly 250 Elders’ Homes in the country sheltering about 6775 elders and with long waiting lists. A major drawback in Elders’ Homes is that they take in only those who can look after themselves and not elders in fragile health.

Elders’ care should be a collaborative partnership between the government and private sector. Politicians should be aware that the elderly form a substantial vote bank and taking more interest in helping them can lead to an increase the political mileage that our politicians are keen on developing. There is the urgent need in all administrative districts, for the establishment of more Elders Homes with especially with government initiative and with assistance and collaboration of the private sector and philanthropists both local and foreign.

Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and other religious organizations should be in the forefront in actively assisting the helpless elderly. Establishing Elders Homes is a priority where special programs could be developed and executed for the benefit of the helpless elders. The tendency among most elderly people is towards spirituality and religion during their sun-set years. This is especially true among Buddhists. Bhikkhus in temples with the cooperation of devotees, can find the time to organize and coordinate suitable assistance programs, including religious programs in temples focused on the welfare of elders.

Universities, schools, and other public bodies, including the private sector agencies should be encouraged by the government to be involved in charitable and welfare activities, to help ameliorate the conditions of the elderly. Volunteer projects should be organized in universities and colleges to assist the senior citizens of the country living in Elders Homes. In most Elders homes the elders suffer from boredom and loneliness. There is boredom that comes from living in a scheduled and somewhat regimented facility. They are not able to get out and interact with the outside world, see different kinds of people, and be energized and less bored with life. The media also can assist by providing more publicity to the plight of the senior citizens of the country and the conditions of the Elders Homes, thereby generating public interest in helping the helpless elderly population of the country.

In the world, the number of persons aged 60 and over is increasing at an unprecedented pace. It is expected to reach 1 billion by the end of the decade. Today, two-thirds of the world’s older people live in low-and middle-income countries and this proportion will rise to 80 per cent by 2050. While some continue to lead active lives as part of their community, many others face homelessness, lack of adequate care or isolation and more susceptible to disease, syndromes, injuries, and sickness. Discrimination, poverty, violence, and abuse as well as the lack of specific measures and services are among the main human rights challenges faced by the older generation.

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

[email protected]


  1. Christie Says:

    In India and among Indian Parasites in our country those turning twenties are the highest in the world.

    It is about three times compared to Sinhala population.

    In Sinhalese culture it was the Children who looked after the elderly.

    Indians sent their elderly to heaven by their in-laws.

    Our situation is the result of “Mithuri” and “Preethi”.

  2. aloy Says:

    Dr. Daya,

    “Today, two-thirds of the world’s older people live in low-and middle-income countries and this proportion will rise to 80 per cent by 2050.”

    It is well known that people live longer in developed countries. In fact it is one of the problems countries like Japan, UK, Germany etc. have. So, is above a correct statement?. In which analysis this is stated?.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    Sadly this is mainly an economic problem. Their children are not bad people (there are exceptions of course). They have to prioritise their own children than their parents. A very sad situation that they have to make a horrible choice due to economic reasons.

    The economic reason is Sri Lanka has a far better healthcare system than its economy can afford! Our quality of life is very high compared to regional countries. But our economy is not so good in comparison. So the weak economy cannot sustain the high quality and long life (Sri Lanka has the longest life expectancy in South Asia).

    There is no way the government can provide for them anymore than the government does now. There is no money!

    The private sector does its best and there is no sense in spending too much on the elderly as their shareholders will not approve it. Most of these shareholders (including trusts) are old people themselves.

    Since 2012, almost all government revenue goes to repay loans and interest. For most other expenses, the government borrows which adds an even higher burden for future generations. Borrowing money to look after anyone is absurd and must not be attempted.

    23% of children under 5 are malnourished. Where should the government spend its very little money available to spend?

    Of course there is massive corruption and waste. But the reality is no one is trying to reduce it.

    The solution is to drastically cut down governance layers, reduce the number of MPs and abolish executive presidency, remove PCs and reduce LG bodies’ members by at least 70%, reduce the public sector drastically, reduce consumption taxes on essentials, tax the wealth of the wealthy (not so much the income), invest only in projects that have short term profit, have a banking system where the elderly can reverse mortgage their house and draw an income (this deprives children though), government takeover of the import industry and diversify food sources. These are very unpopular moves so the problem remains.


    Hi Aloy – yes the statement is correct according to UNO studies and reports. MOst older people live in low to middle income countries and not in high income developed countries such as those you mention. My Sources of Information:
    World Population Ageing Report; World Population Prospects: the 2017 Revision; and DESA United Nations Programme on Ageing.

    The world’s population is ageing and virtually every country in the world is experiencing growth in the number and proportion of older persons in their population. By 2100, those 60 years or over is expected to rise to 3.1 billion.

  5. Ananda-USA Says:

    Dr Daya has highlighted a massive emerging, but as yet unrecognized, problem in Sri Lanka: the EXTREME poverty of the ELDERLY in poor families.

    I financially support and educate a large number of orphaned destitute children in Sri Lanka. A problem that I increasingly encounter in this effort is the need to “adopt” elderly grandparents who are the caregivers of the children. They really have no help from the government or the community and cannot fend for themselves, much less care for their orphaned and abandoned grandchildren.

    Samurdhi payments are so small that they are TOTALLY inadequate to meet the needs. As Daya points out, the community is simply not helping enough and is not organized to effectively contribute.

    Most of these destitute people are Sinhala Buddhists, and I BLAME THE Buddhist TEMPLES for not taking the LEAD ROLE in helping to cope with this HUGE HUMANITARIAN PROBLEM!

    Thank you, Dr. Daya Hewapathirane!

  6. aloy Says:

    Thank you Dr. Daya for your clarification.

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