Kenya's senior citizens are increasingly being abandoned by their families, forcing them to join the destitute population in urban areas, particularly in slums, according to the Sessional Paper on a National Policy on Older Persons and Ageing.
According to the policy document, neglect, abuse and violence against the elderly have become common in Kenya and need urgent attention. An increasing number of elderly people are at risk of suffering physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, financial and material abuse, even in the hands of their close relatives.
Kenyan families have been found to attach little value to the contributions that the elderly make, a situation that fuels the rising cases of neglect. The government is now pushing for a review of programmes that support families but fail to take account of the interests and key roles played by the elderly.
"In families afflicted by HIV/Aids, older persons carry the burden of caring for the sick and large numbers of orphaned grandchildren," says the document. To minimise challenges associated with old age, the paper says the government needs to implement a national nutrition education programme for all age groups to ensure good nutrition at all levels.
It acknowledges that food security and nutrition are critical factors affecting the lives of the elderly. Good nutrition in childhood and throughout life affects health and nutritional status in old age.
Unfortunately, most nutrition curricular do not include the elderly. Nutritional assessments tend to focus on children and child-bearing women at the exclusion of elderly people. During difficult times, such as the current drought, elderly people are often marginalised from food relief programmes.
This could change as the government seeks to develop and review national food security and nutrition policies, including those covering emergency situations, to address the specific needs of the elderly.
Currently, the African population of those aged 60 years and above is about 4.2 million. Population ageing has major consequences in all facets of life. In the social sphere, it affects health and healthcare, family composition and living arrangements, housing and migration.
To cushion the ageing at the family level, the government, through the paper, is seeking to formulate cultural policies that promote family care and protection of the elderly.