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Older Kenyans Seek Protection From Abuses

  • Roopa Gogineni

Elderly Kenyans gathered to share testimonies of abuse and call for international legislation protecting the rights of older people in Nairobi, June 16, 2014. (Roopa Gogineni/VOA)

Elderly Kenyans gathered to share testimonies of abuse and call for international legislation protecting the rights of older people in Nairobi, June 16, 2014. (Roopa Gogineni/VOA)

As the world's elderly population grows, many countries struggle to reduce violence against older residents.

A day after World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, older Kenyans gathered in Nairobi to call for a United Nations convention on the rights of older people.

In Kilifi County along Kenya’s coast, 41 older people accused of witchcraft have been murdered this year alone. Sixty-one were killed in 2013.

Local authorities said many more cases go unreported.

A former long-distance truck driver living in the village of Kaya Godoma, Kenga Charo, opened his home to those fleeing such accusations.

He has sheltered more than 200 elderly victims of abuse.

If you are old or aging, you can be accused of being a witch, Charo said.

Elder abuse

He gave an example: Maybe a young man wants you to sell a piece of land, but you do not want to sell it because it’s family land. The young man will force you to sell, and if you do not, they will make an accusation.

If they say you are a witch, you will be identified and definitely be killed. They will sell you out for just $200, $400, Charo said.

Charo and dozens of other elderly Kenyans gathered Monday in Nairobi to demand that Kenya push for a U.N. convention focused on ending violence against older men and women.

The activists said existing human rights laws do not adequately address their vulnerable population.

Principal Secretary Ali Noor, of Kenya’s Ministry of Labor, addressed the crowd, pledging the continued support of the government to its older citizens.

He noted an increase in Kenya’s aged population, a demographic trend that is accompanied by rapid urbanization.

"In particular, the increased movement of younger persons from rural to urban areas in search of employment has led to major challenges in family structures, resulting in the breakdown of the extended family support systems to older persons in society, with its in-built social protection systems," Noor said.

Though the rights of elders are protected in the 2010 Kenyan constitution, cases of elder abuse and neglect persist in the country.

Witchcraft allegations

"Today we are here because in our country, we are hearing that older people are hunted. They are killed. They are isolated. They are discriminated [against]," explained Erastus Maina, the director of HelpAge Kenya, a civil society group serving older Kenyans.

In rural Kenya, it is often allegations of witchcraft that lead to such abuse. Maina believes lack of education perpetuates these beliefs.

"Their argument is that people fall sick because they have been bewitched. There is evil," he said. "They fall sick because they are hungry, malnourished, have malaria, or are drinking contaminated water. But these are issues that those communities do not want to argue."

Maina said he wants the government to take a two-pronged approach to end the violence, by prosecuting the perpetrators and by addressing the widespread belief in witchcraft.

UN report

According to a U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) report on aging, released on Sunday, witchcraft accusations used to justify extreme violence against older women are reported in 41 African and Asian countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal and Tanzania.

Older women are at particular risk due to widespread discriminatory attitudes and practices, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message about the awareness day posted on the United Nations news website.

But there is no clear picture of the actual scope of the neglect, violence and abuse of older women, its complexity and diversity, UN DESA reported.

The U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) said that abuse is under-reported by as much as 80 percent.

The global population of people aged 60 years and older is expected to more than double, from 542 million in 1995 to about 1.2 billion in 2025, the report stated.

The share of older persons (aged 60 years or older) in the total population increased from 9 percent in 1994 to 12 percent in 2014, and is expected to reach 21 percent by 2050, according to the UN DESA report.