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UN Releases First Report Focused on Elderly Abuse - 2002-02-26

The United Nations has issued its first-ever report focused on the abuse of the elderly, which shows that it is a worldwide problem.

Abuse of older people is not a new problem. But most nations do not have organizations in place that address the issue. Odile Frank, a member of the UN team that researched the report, says that the problem is widespread.

"We know that it occurs virtually everywhere. We have reports from many distant parts of the world on abuse taking place. However, exact numerical estimates are hard to find. So we cannot estimate how many people worldwide are being abused. It's not an unusual situation: it's the same thing for women who are abused, children who are abused. It's a very hard estimate to arrive at, at a global level, because for most countries in the world we don't have these figures. What we can say is that the figures that are reported in the few studies that do exist are probably underestimates," she said.

Currently, only three nations require annual reports on elder abuse: the United States, Canada, and Israel. Ms. Frank says the primary form of elder abuse is simple neglect: by children, by in-laws, and by society as a whole.

Rajul Mahta, a representative of the non-governmental organization Outreach, is making a documentary on the subject of elder abuse in India. At the U.N. press briefing, she shared some of what she learned about the issue during the making of the film.

"I know of people, Indians, living in the U.S., who would be happy to pay $54,000 a year for four to six years to send their child to MIT. But when it comes to spending that kind of money for their parents, how willing would they be? It's not a question of guilt. It's just the way things are," she said.

The United Nations is continuing its effort to gather information on the elder abuse problem, and hopes the international media will help to increase world awareness of the issue.