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  India   All India  13 Jun 2019  India must take up meaningful initiatives to tackle elder abuse

India must take up meaningful initiatives to tackle elder abuse

Published : Jun 13, 2019, 1:42 am IST
Updated : Jun 13, 2019, 1:42 am IST

India does not have any specific elder abuse laws or a national government policy framework related to elder abuse.

We need to celebrate age and remove the inequalities that work against older people. (Photo: AP/AJIT SOLANKI)
 We need to celebrate age and remove the inequalities that work against older people. (Photo: AP/AJIT SOLANKI)

The observance of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15 — since 2006 — and by the United Nations from 2012 — provides an opportunity to better understand abuse and neglect of older persons across the world — but more so in the countries of the Asia Pacific which are now seeing unprecedented increases in the proportion of the ageing population. Demographic statistics point to a total of 65 per cent of the global increase between 2017 and 2050 for the 60-plus age group to be expected in Asia, of which India, along with China, are forerunners. In the Pacific region, which is also facing rapid population ageing, Australian data indicates a fast-growing proportion of older persons, those aged 60 years and over, in the population. With growth in absolute numbers and in the proportion of older persons, attention on an increasing population of older adults experiencing elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation is pertinent in both India and Australia as it is elsewhere too. There is growing awareness on the need for elder justice and to take concrete steps to reduce elder abuse and neglect. It is appropriate that the WEAAD theme this year focuses on lifting voices for combating elder abuse and brings global attention on the problem of physical, emotional and financial abuse of older people. In both India and Australia, as also in many other countries in recent times, government is developing elder-friendly policies and using legislative, public health services and social means to reduce incidents of violence towards elders as well as an increase in reporting of such abuse.

India, to protect and safeguard the interests of older people, has a National Policy for Older People, 1999, a draft National Policy on Senior Citizens, though yet to be approved or implemented, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, which is being amended, and the National Program for Health Care of the Elderly. However, like Australia, India too does not have any specific elder abuse laws or a national government policy framework related to elder abuse. But in Australia, unlike in India, there is mandatory reporting of certain types of abuse in residential care. Those in the field of safeguarding older people are reliant on state and territorial government elder abuse policies and strategies and general state and territory criminal and civil laws in Australia. India can learn from Australia since in that country most states and territories have some guiding policy or strategy to prevent and respond to elder abuse with the exception of the Northern Territory and Queensland. The states of New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria have very detailed elder abuse prevention and response strategies.

It is a tragic and serious matter that in many societies, older people may tolerate abusive situations to avoid conflict with their families, often because of a lack of alternative support mechanisms. In dealing with elder abuse police, government and non-government agencies must play a responsible role. There is a need for elder abuse helplines and referral services to support and guide the victims of abuse. More importantly, there should be initiatives taken at preventing or responding to elder abuse, including public awareness campaigns, approaches that combine health and legal responses, family mediation and advocacy. Posters at public places which highlight what elder abuse comprises of can raise awareness on the concern and promote steps to combat it. We know that in all countries elder abuse and violence is an under-reported and sensitive issue, often considered a matter for families that should be dealt with without involving others, particularly formal agencies and institutions. Yet, experts working on ageing issues know and an emerging body of knowledge illustrates the benefits of combining legal and healthcare services to address elder abuse. These services can be approached by older people, thus being effective ways to reach older people experiencing elder abuse. Medical teams and legal functionaries including police and community health and social workers and NGO personnel can assist in resolving the underlying legal, health-related or social problems which can improve an elder abuse victim’s health and well-being. The legal and medical response to elder abuse should advance the human rights of older people, balancing their right to be safe, protected, cared and their right to exercise self-determination and seek justice.

Evidence in India from police stations, the senior citizens cell, geriatric clinics and tribunals and in Australia from hospitals and legal services confirms that these agencies/institutions may offer opportunities for help and support to older people at risk or being victimised. For more than a decade, St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, a major metropolitan hospital in Melbourne, has worked on developing an evidence-informed approach to identifying and responding to elder abuse. Advocates for older person’s rights, well-being and the need for a better quality of life recommend educating older people on elder abuse issues, raising voices against such violence and atrocities as well as make families and communities realise the need to provide respect, dignity and care for older people. In India and Australia, those concerned with ageing issues are coming forward with preventive measures and support response for older people. Men and women from their adult years must be empowered to make informed choices for their health, well-being, economic independence, financial security, social integration and self-enrichment. Providing information on these aspects is a growing necessity for society and media — technology as well as midlife education along with skill development can play a pivotal role. In lifting voices against and about elder abuse, cultural considerations, since India is culturally diverse and Australia too is culturally heterogeneous, must be kept in view, though in no society/community violence, abuse and exploitation of older people should be acceptable. The social isolation of older people and their mistreatment is a violation of their right to life of dignity and respect which in no way can be tolerated universally. Elder abuse must be recognised as a serious problem and a response generated to combat it. We must create policies and programs which enable older people to be valued as productive members of society, as a resource which needs to be cherished. The observation of WEAAD all over the world is an occasion for us to get together and lift the dignity of older people in families, communities and society as a whole. Both India and Australia, by taking a positive and meaningful initiative to reduce elder abuse — and in fact stop it — will do justice to the Asia Pacific region where ageing issues are gradually becoming predominant. Let us commemorate events across countries to raise awareness about elder abuse, bring down prevalence rates, which at present are ranging from one to 10 per cent as per WHO statistics, and take steps to remove the problems associated with ageism. We need to celebrate age and remove the inequalities that work against older people which are the root cause of elder abuse in the Asia Pacific region as seen in India and Australia — two fast-ageing countries.

The writer is a sociologist, gerontologist and health and development social scientist, and an associate professor at Delhi University’s Maitreyi College

Tags: world elder abuse awareness day, senior citizens act