Malawi President approves Older Persons’ Bill 2024

The Republic of Malawi President, Lazarus Chakwera, has assented to the Older Persons’ Bill 2024, marking a huge leap forward for the country’s ageing population.

By Dyson Mthawanji

The Republic of Malawi President, Lazarus Chakwera, has assented to the Older Persons’ Bill 2024, marking a huge leap forward for the country’s ageing population.

For many years, Malawi has operated without explicit laws to protect older people. The passing of the Older Persons’ Bill by the Malawi National Assembly on 5 April 2024, and the subsequent passing of the Bill by the State President a week ago have brought smiles to Malawians.

The Malawi 2018 Population and Housing Census report shows that there are around one million older persons in the country, representing 5.4% of the national population. In reality, the number of older persons has almost doubled since 1987, from 473,890 to 891,805. According to the United Nations healthy agency, abuse of older people is widespread, with around one in six people aged 60 years and above experiencing some form of attack every year. Malawi is no exception. In recent years, the country has witnessed a spate of attacks on older people, often surrounding accusations of witchcraft. This bill is expected to improve protection and increase the rights of the elderly.

In Malawi, old age is often characterized by extreme poverty, poor housing conditions, loss of dignity and generally becoming a victim of difficult circumstances. This frequently includes the need to provide care and support to vulnerable and orphaned children, among other challenges. According to the Malawi Network of Older Persons' Organizations (MANEPO), in 2022 alone, 15 elderly persons were killed, while many were abused over accusations of witchcraft. In 2023, a total of 25 elderly people lost their lives in similar circumstances.

President Chakwera was among the first heads of state in Africa to ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Older Persons.

The bill establishes a comprehensive framework for community-based and home-based care, ensuring professional assistance and secure living conditions. It also includes provisions for financial aid and the granting of monthly stipends to older people.

While the Older Persons’ Bill is a significant achievement, all stakeholders in Malawi should continue to consolidate efforts to spread awareness of the bill and contribute to its fruitful implementation once it becomes an Act. The elderly should always be protected because older people play a vital role in society as custodians of wisdom, culture and as caregivers. The country should not tolerate outdated traditional beliefs, particularly those associating older people with witchcraft and that perpetuate violence and harassment against them, exacerbating their plight.

The bill also provides for the formation of a National Steering Committee on Older Persons which will oversee the effective implementation and enforcement of the bill, fostering transparency and accountability at all levels. By enshrining legal protections and support mechanisms, this bill represents an important step towards more inclusive governance and social justice for older persons.

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