Sunday, June 15, is Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The World Health Organization describes elder abuse as a global social issue affecting the health and human rights of millions of people. It estimates up to six-percent of the elderly are abused at home, with many cases going unreported.
The U.N. predicts the number of people 60 years old and above will reach about 1.2-billion by 2025. That’s more than double the figure recorded in 1995. And as the global population ages, the U.N. said elder abuse is expected to rise.
In Pretoria, South Africa, Necodimus Chipfupa is among those campaigning for the rights of older people. He’s the regional director for southern Africa for HelpAge International.
“Elder abuse is a universal problem encountered in many countries – with little recourse at [the] national level where [the] government in some cases may not have specific policies to encounter and remedy where such abuse is taking place.”
He said there’s a wide range of abuse against the elderly.
“Physical, emotional, sexual, psychological abuses -- and in some cases discrimination and denial of rights for older persons -- thereby taking them as sub-persons in their own nations,” he said
And the abuse can be violent.
“For example,” he said, “in witchcraft accusations, in the case of Africa, or in circumstances where an older person or an older woman is suffering from Alzheimer’s as a form of dementia – they are labeled as a witch and violently killed. Their property torched.”
Chipfupa said some elderly women are raped because of the myth that having sex with an older person can cure someone of HIV/AIDS.
The HelpAge International regional director says elderly, who receive government assistance, are also targets.
“In some cases, like in South Africa, where older persons receive a social grant, families abuse them and take the money – using it for their own purposes without even consulting the older person. And in such a situation the police having no recourse and not being helpful at all.”
Abuse comes in other forms, as well, he said. For example, many who have jobs in the informal sector have no pensions or health insurance to rely on in old age.
“With old age non-communicable diseases begin to increase and people really need access to health services. And there are no medical insurances, which they could contribute to and lead to supporting them at old age, as it were. And, therefore, older persons find themselves hit hard when they’re sick and require medical services,” he said.
To remedy such problems, there’s a growing call for a U.N. convention on the rights of older people. HelpAge said such a treaty would “set standards prohibiting violence against older men and women that currently do not exist in international human rights law.” And the convention would ensure victims have access to the justice system.
Support for the convention is being gathered through the Age Demands Action campaign, which includes a petition. The goal is to collect 300,000 signatures. More than 200,000 have been collected so far. The petition said governments have an “obligation to uphold the rights of older people and protect them from discrimination.”
A U.N. working group on ageing will meet in July in New York to gather information and evidence on the need for the convention.