The UN designated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is observed every year on June 15. What comes as a surprise to many is that this day was officially recognised as recently as 2011. Reports state that in the next 10 years, the number of people above the age of 60 is estimated to grow by 38 per cent, reaching a total population of 1.4 billion elders across the world. A large section of this demographic will inhabit developing countries, according to Parul Kamra, programme manager, Wishes Blessings NGO.
While elders face a multitude of their own problems – deteriorating health, financial woes – there is something darker that looms out there. Elder abuse is a problem that exists the world over, and yet, is one of the least reported crimes. The UN estimates that elder abuse is more prevalent in developing countries, putting it between 1-10 per cent in developed countries. Since most cases are hushed up, dealt with ‘internally’ or simply not officially documented, it is difficult to give a realistic estimate. Reports state that only 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse is reported. The reasons vary, the most common being that older people fear reporting cases of abuse to near and dear ones as well as the authorities.
Not many know that there are seven forms of abuse that elders may face. These are physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment, financial abuse and self-neglect. A simple query on the internet reveals millions of stories of elders who have faced abuse at the hands of their own children and grandchildren, just because they are no longer deemed ‘useful’. This utilitarian understanding of people, especially elders has to be done away with, mentioned Kamra.
However, the statement above is easier said than done. Abuse is an extremely delicate matter, and more so when it comes to elders. Very often, those who are brave enough to speak about their situation have nowhere to go, but back to the home of their abusers. There are very few arrangements in place for
those who would need shelter in the last few stages of life.
Of utmost need at this juncture is to spread awareness, not just to help others identify cases of elderly abuse but also to share the same information with elders who might, albeit unknowingly, be undergoing the more nefarious and sinister forms of abuse.
There are various legal safety nets
In 2017, the Delhi High Court passed a ruling stating that abusive adults could be evicted from their parent’s home. The Parents and Senior Citizens Act of 2007 has made maintenance a legal obligation. Senior citizens can apply for an allowance from their children, which if not provided is punishable.
Civil societies are also doing their bit by including elderly care as one of their focus areas. While some are engaged in community mobilisation, others focus on more concrete forms of providing care to neglected elders. Mann ka Tilak, an old age home set up in 2018, is one of the ways Wishes and Blessings is reaching out to this demographic. The aim is to provide shelter and a loving and caring family to abandoned, abused elders. All amenities are provided completely free of cost. To ensure that these situations do not replicate themselves, each year the organisations holds a campaign to spread awareness. The campaigns involve people from the world over, and Dr Geetanjali Chopra, founder and president, believes that it will take all of us to join hands to put an end to the evil that is elderly abuse.
UN-designated days are observed to primarily spread information and mobilise the community and resources to draw attention to pressing concerns. Social workers the world over are hopeful that this will help create a ripple effect to energise society to completely eradicate elderly abuse in the near future.
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