“The distressing crime of elder abuse often occurs in quiet, private settings, making a vocal, public response that much more important. Let us strengthen our resolve to end this problem as part of our broader efforts to create a life of dignity for all.” -UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Mangaluru: Elder abuse is a bit like AIDS in India. We know it’s a big problem; we have even heard it’s a crisis. But most of us, especially in middle class India, insist it doesn’t happen in our families. Many elderly folks have experienced some kind of abuse or the other, usually from family members, especially from Children and daughter-in-laws. And we don’t have to go far-we can see that elderly abuse right here in our hometown-Mangaluru. I have been following up on this issue for the last so many months, slowly interviewing inmates of Old-age and Rehabilitation Centers in Mangaluru- and the stories that have heard from these seniors have even brought tears in my eyes. Although I had met only a few, but I bet there are many who would have the same kind of stories/feelings to share about their agony by being at a old-age home.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was launched on June 15, 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. The United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution 66/127, designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It represents the one day in the year when the whole world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted to some of our older generations. The purpose of WEAAD is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect. In addition, WEAAD is in support of the United Nations International Plan of Action acknowledging the significance of elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue. WEAAD serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organizations, and communities to raise awareness about elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
Vishwas Trust, an NGO which takes care of the elderly in co-ordination with other NGOs organized a meeting to observe “World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, on Tuesday, 16 June at Ladies Club Hall, Light House Hill Road here, to discuss how awareness can be raised on Elder abuse which has been going on rapidly in our neighbourhood and also in many families as well without our being aware of it. Dr Olinda Pereira- Founder and Director of Vishwas Trust addressing the audience said, ” The global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 542 million in 1995 to about 1.2 billion in 2025. Around 4 to 6% of elderly people have experienced some form of maltreatment at home. Elder maltreatment can lead to serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences. The incidence of abuse towards older people is predicted to increase as many countries are experiencing rapidly ageing populations. Elder abuse is a global social issue which affects the health and human rights of millions of older persons around the world, and an issue which deserves the attention of the international community. We should all join hands and fight to put an end to abuse of elderly people”.
Presenting the subject of Elder Abuse, Lidwin Lobo- Co-ordinator, senior Citizen Helpline at Vishwas Trust, reading out various abuse cases said, “The term ‘Abuse’ needs to be understood in its proper context and sense. What is abuse? Abuse is misuse, misapplication, desecration, dishonor, injury, harm, defamation or disparagement. It also means-to deceive, to violate, to take undue advantage. Elderly Abuse is still unspoken of in our developing countries as it would mean a loss of face. It is taken to be a form of family violence about which it is nit spoken of outside the family even by the Elder. As yet there are no laws specifically addressing Elder Abuse. There are already 5955 abuse cases registered, and 3115 complaints lodged at Vishwas Trust, and we are trying to solve them”.
She further said, “Elder Abuse can be classified into- Physical Abuse which includes physical injury, malnutrition, lack of personal care, poor hygiene, confinement to bed or room without freedom of movement nor opportunities for social interaction and unpleasant condition of residence. Psychological or Emotional Abuse- includes threats or harassment, physical harm, intimidation, with holding affection, security, refusing to allow the older persons outside the home nor allowing visitors to see older persons etc; Financial Abuse- includes misuse of person’s property and funds etc; Legal Abuse- is by misrepresenting or misguiding execution of legal papers in order to deprive the elder of the advantages by right.”
“Each type of abuse has its social dimensions. The sufferings of women in general and widows i particular knows no limits. In brief it can be said that Elders are the sufferers on account of Property, Money, Inconvenience, Modernity, New Cultural Values, Food Habits, Health Costs, Burden on Housekeeping, Degrading Elders before youngsters and the like. Elders must avoid getting into abusive situations. Hence in good time find occupation that keeps them out of such situations and widens their vision. Elders must move into retirement homes in good time when they are mobile. It is difficult to find a home that admits semi mobile Elders. As long as one can be mobile, Elders must attend talks, social gatherings, clubs, conferences, seminars, fun activities and neighborhood groups” added Lobo.
Summarizing the presentation, Prof. Phyllis Maria D’Costa said, “Like people adopt children, they should also adopt Elders and take care and love them. Although Vishwas Trust has a helpline to take Elder abuse issues, but we all can also be an extra helpline in solving elder abuse. Government must undertake earnestly the implementation of article 41 of the constitution. It must also provide sufficient grants for the construction, the running and up keep of the retirement homes as well as the services which serve the elderly like the Helpline, Neighborhood Groups, Medicare and such other related services. Together we can make a difference, and stop elder abuse. All human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and have the right to age with dignity, respected by their families and communities free of neglect abuse and violence”.
Dr L N Bhat- Registrar at School of Social Work-Roshini Nilaya, who presided over the meeting, also compered the whole proceedings, and gave his concluding remarks, that we should all fight to stop Elder Abuse, and also involve in various awareness programmes pertaining to Elder Abuse. The session began with a prayer rendered by Ranjith, and the vote of thanks was proposed by Deepthi, both social workers at Vishwas Trust.
In conclusion- In my childhood, we were taught by our parents to treat all elder women as mothers, and elder men as fathers. We were constantly coached to believe that women, just like men, are created in the image of God, and hence must be treated with dignity and respect. That teaching from childhood still remains close to my heart, regardless of time or place that I live in. I do hope that we continue to teach such precious thoughts to our children, empowering them to view and treat every elderly woman and man with respect and dignity – as their own mother or father, as God’s divine image, and not as an object of desire to be ogled and fantasized about. Make a decision not to abuse your elders, instead love and care them. Let’s all work together to educate children to love and respect their elders, and not to abuse them. Thank You.