efe-epaBangkok

Thailand, one of the favorite destinations for Western retirees for its beaches and easy lifestyle, is not so nice a place for Thai people, who do not have any choice but to work in their old age due to low pensions.

"I am 71 years old and receive a monthly pension of of 600 baht ($17). The situation is very difficult," Nuannoi Noo-gnern, a Thai woman who runs a homemade dessert stall in Prakanong market in Bangkok, told EFE.

"With pension money I buy rice," added Nuannoi, who complained that her income was insufficient as she has to take care of four grandchildren who lost their father.

The old lady opens her stall in the market about 20 days a month, when her health permits, and earns between 200 and 400 baht per day.

"I am in a very bad financial situation these days, Nobody comes (to the market)," says Nuannoi, sitting among the containers of Thai desserts in the open-air and almost deserted market.

According to nonprofit Help Age International, 38 percent of Thais aged over 60 continue to work, a figure similar to that of Vietnam and somewhat lower than Bangladesh (39 percent), Philippines (43 percent) or Nepal (66 percent).

If men are taken into account, the figure rises to 49 percent in Thailand, 54 percent in the Philippines, 64 percent in Bangladesh and 76 percent in Nepal.

The Peruvian, Eduardo Klien, regional director of Help Age International, believes that working after 60 does not need to be a negative thing, especially when the decision to work is made out of sheer will and is need-based.

"Retirement should be flexible in some cases, you should not always force someone to retire in their 50s or 60s," said Klien in an interview with EFE.

In his view, it is equally important that countries match the pension and health system, especially disease prevention, to adapt to their growing aging societies.

The aging population in Thailand is on rapid rise, with 15.8 percent aged over 60 years, a figure expected to rise to 37.1 percent by 2050, when Thailand is expected to rank 16th among the oldest nations in the world, according to the United Nations.

In addition to having a minimum universal health system, Thailand is one of the countries where pensions benefit 91 percent of the population, compared to 48 percent in Vietnam or 45 percent in the Philippines.

However, 85 percent of these pensions are non-contributory and amount to a maximum of 1,000 baht per month, while six percent are reserved for civil servants.

Many Thais, such as Sanan Um-songkram, 64, continue to work as long as their health permits them to supplement the pension money and to provide financial support to their children or family members.

"I'm going to work until I will not be able to because of health reasons, this is my profession," says Sanan sitting at his fruit stand in Prakanong market.

The fruit seller laments the shortage of customers but is satisfied with the health coverage and the pension of 600 baht, which he considers low but "better than nothing".

Thai retirees also enjoy some free therapeutic swimming classes at Din Daeng Senior Center in the Thai capital.

Sali, 81, stretches and exercises in a pool there - with more than 20 elderly women and only one man - to relieve their joints.

The old lady stopped working in a washing machine factory to take care of her daughter, but her husband died when the child was six so she set up a street food stall to pull through.

Beside support from her daughter, who is now working as an architect, she receives a monthly pension of 800 baht and pays a rent of 300 baht for a room in the subsidized housing.

"My advice to young people is to study. I would have liked to study more," says Sali, who is in her swimsuit and ready to take a dip in the pool.

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela