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The Elderly in Morrocco, From Caring Families to Isolation

By Siham Ali, www.Magharebia.com

June 12, 2009





The number of elderly people is growing all the time in Morocco. By 2030, senior citizens will make up 15% of the Moroccan population, rising from 2.5 million to 8 million. Government officials and social activists say work to protect this marginalised sector of society must intensify before more ageing citizens end up on the streets.

Ba Mohamed once lived with a loving family. The 70-something man now wanders the streets of Rabat every day, suffering the pain of solitude and marginalisation. He no longer receives any news from his two children, who emigrated to France 25 years ago. 

After the death of his wife, Ba continued performing seasonal work, until health problems prevented him from being able to support himself. Without financial resources, he found himself with no fixed abode, moving from pillar to post, and living off the goodwill of passers-by. His brothers and nephews thought it best to sever their links with him. 

Demographic changes have had a perceptible impact on social solidarity in Morocco, sociologist Naīma Bichri explains, leaving many people in their twilight years, like Ba Mohamed, to navigate the challenges of everyday life on their own.

"We're seeing problems which never existed in the past. Indeed, it was rare for an elderly person to be cast aside. Families took care of their own and respected those older than themselves," she tells Magharebia. "This trend is dying out more and more."

Nevertheless, she says it is important not to paint too bleak a picture, because there are still many families who want to look after their elderly relatives. 

Hnia, in her eighties, has been living with her children since her husband died 32 years ago. She organises her own schedule of visits to stay with her eight children, who live in different towns and cities. 

"When I'm bored staying with one of them, I ring one of the others to come and collect me there and then. If I'm taken ill, my sons pay for my treatment. I feel spoiled, even if my daughters-in-law irritate me," she says with a broad grin.

It may be difficult for young people to continue to support their elders, even if they want to, Bichri points out, given the unemployment rate affecting Morocco and the erosion of citizens' spending power. She thinks the government and civil society should work together to find solutions, both in terms of families and resources.

According to figures from the High Commission for Planning, only 16% of elderly Moroccans receive a pension. The remainder must rely on family or the state for care.

One solution may be for families to work together as part of a mutual support network; Samira Tamiri of the Together for a Better Future Association feels that a family network could go far in addressing problems facing senior citizens. 

"Thanks to advice, mutual services and exchanges across all regions of Morocco, our senior citizens can live a better life. Those who don't have a loving family around them can find plenty of other people prepared to listen," she tells Magharebia.

Indeed, government officials have begun focusing on strengthening the family unit as the basis for a new national strategy for the elderly. 

"Changes in our society mean that there needs to be provision for the elderly, particularly those in a vulnerable situation," Social Development, Family and Solidarity Minister Nouzha Skalli said at a conference in Rabat last month.

Recommendations made by a think-tank studying the issue centred on the need to set up a consultative committee and regional networks to alleviate the suffering of those who live in misery on the margins of society.

Among the suggestions made at the forum: creation of a committee on ageing representing all the regions of the country. There was also a proposal to set up a UNESCO chair, comprising academics, researchers, mediators and people running centres for the elderly, whose job it would be to evaluate public policy and provide information on the relevant sectors, such as health, pensions and the environment.‎

Any comprehensive plan must also deal with the inadequate number of centres for the elderly. There is no official figure on the total number of available spaces, but there is a recognised shortfall. 

One successful centre for the elderly was set up by the Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity. Opened in 2008, the facility provides food and health care to ageing Moroccans who have no resources or family support. Alongside caring for pensioners, the centre helps homeless elderly citizens through its own paramedic service.

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