Combatting Elder Abuse
This year, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) coincides with two important events. The first is the start of the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030). This marks the beginning of ten years of concerted, catalytic and sustained collaboration with diverse stakeholders on improving the lives of older people, their families and their communities. The second is the 20th milestone of the Second World Assembly on Ageing and the fourth review and appraisal of the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). These provide an opportunity to generate renewed momentum for international action to advance the ageing agenda.
MIPAA represents the first time Governments agreed to link questions of ageing to other frameworks for social and economic development and human rights. The 159 Member States who signed onto the MIPAA reaffirmed the commitment to spare no effort to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development.
This complementarity between MIPAA and a human rights framework can be easily shown in the area of elder abuse. MIPAA includes various references to elder abuse, including “Issue3: Neglect, Abuse and Violence,” which provides two objectives relating to the elimination of all forms of neglect, abuse and violence of older persons; as well as the creation of support services to address elder abuse. Both objectives include actions to review policies, enact laws and create awareness, information, training, and research initiatives. However, in the absence of an international standard on the rights of older persons, gaps between policy and practice, and the mobilization of necessary human and financial resources, as well as the uneven progress in the implementation of MIPAA continues. An international legal instrument for older persons would advance the implementation and accountability of MIPAA.
Addressing Elder Abuse
Between 2019 and 2030, the number of persons aged 60 years or over is projected to grow by 38%, from 1 billion to 1.4 billion, globally outnumbering youth, and this increase will be the greatest and the most rapid in the developing world, and recognizing that greater attention needs to be paid to the specific challenges affecting older persons, including in the field of human rights.
Elder abuse is a problem that exists in both developing and developed countries yet is typically underreported globally. Prevalence rates or estimates exist only in selected developed countries — ranging from 1% to 10%. Although the extent of elder mistreatment is unknown, its social and moral significance is obvious. As such, it demands a global multifaceted response, one which focuses on protecting the rights of older persons.
Approaches to define, detect and address elder abuse need to be placed within a cultural context and considered along side culturally specific risk factors. For example, in some traditional societies, older widows are subjected to forced marriages while in others, isolated older women are accused of witchcraft. From a health and social perspectives, unless both primary health care and social service sectors are well equipped to identify and deal with the problem, elder abuse will continue to be underdiagnosed and overlooked.