Older People Lobby for Pension, Free Health Care

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72-year-old retired farmer Thou Sreang was using his smartphone for watching news on Internet. Image: Heng Vichet
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An elderly lobby group is asking the government for free health services and financial support after retirement.

Ou Vanna, 67, was one of about 200 people who attended a forum in Battambang province this month to discuss pensions.

Vanna, who is among the leaders of the Cambodian Aging Network, said social support was necessary for older people, calling for free health services and financial support.

“First of all, they can’t make an income. Secondly, it is about their health. When we are old, we face a lot of long-term diseases. So we want the government to support us with money and a card for us to get health services without pay,” she said.

A press release about the event said the 200 participants represented around 30,000 older people from 25 provinces through their networks.

Teav Samart, 75, from Kampong Thom, said it was not possible for him to get a job at his age, so he could not pay for his basic needs. “I need support from the government for my daily living — food and medicine.”

Sek Sovan, 62, from Phnom Penh, said she was facing poverty. “I have no ability to work anymore. I need money to buy food.”

According to a report by the National Institute of Social Affairs in 2018, the income of the older people depends on the support of family members or their children in 71% of cases. About 1,380,000 people, or 9% of the population, are 60 years or older, according to the 2019 census.

Social Affairs Ministry spokesperson Touch Channy said he had joined the forum to hear about the needs of older people, but he could not say whether the government would be able to provide free health and a pension as requested.

“In this forum we wanted to get to know older people’s requirements. I can’t respond yet, but we are considering what we should give them,” he said. “We haven’t decided.”

NGOs Oxfam, HelpAge and UNDP helped promote the event.

HelpAge director Tum Vira said the issue should be a priority. “Compared to Asean countries including [East] Timor, only Cambodia and Laos don’t have financial support for older people,” Vira said.

The Cambodian government is in the process of implementing a pension scheme to support the current workforce as they age, with businesses and employees both required to contribute to the fund from Oct. 1. However the pension scheme does not support the current generation of retired citizens. 

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