Elder abuse in our society is a reality. Dictionary meaning of elder abuse is “inappropriate behaviour in a trusted relationship causing physical or mental harm to the elderly person.” Here the concept of trusted relationship is important as elder abuse is often found in families, perpetrated by near and dear ones who are otherwise expected to take care of them. Unfortunately, these types of abuses are under-reported as elders are neither willing nor physically / mentally agile to report such cases. Role of law enforcement agencies and civil society thus becomes crucial.
Types of elder abuse:
The National Centre on Elder Abuse defines seven (7) different type of abuse.:
Physical abuse: Physical pain / injury
Sexual abuse: Inappropriate and non-consensual contact or behaviour
Financial abuse: Loss of movable / immovable property
Emotional abuse: Inflicting emotional pain
Neglect: Failure to fulfil required / legal obligations
Abandonment: Desertion of an elderly person
Self-neglect: Behaviour of an elderly causing harm to himself
Most unfortunately, many such abuses happen at places where elders are expected to be most secure i.e. at their own homes, the abuse being perpetrated by close family members.
Extent of concern:
It is a global concern. Hence, 15th June every year is observed as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to create awareness about the menace. But unfortunately, the day continues to remain more of an ornamental event. HelpAge India has been conducting an annual survey among the senior citizens in India to find their condition in different settings. In the recently conducted study (2021) among 3526 elderly people across 6 major cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Chennai), elder abuse has been one of the major areas of concern both at home as well as old age homes. One of the disturbing observations has been increase in incidence of elder abuse during pandemic period. The study reveals that for elders staying at homes, 43.1 per cent respondents opined that elder abuse is very much prevalent, 15.6 per cent being actual victims. Disrespect (45.6 per cent) and physical beating / slapping (23.1 per cent) were the main types of abuse. Majority of perpetrators were sons (43.8 per cent), and daughters in law (27.8 per cent). Very surprisingly, in some cases (14.2 per cent), daughters were also responsible for elder abuse. The three (3) main types of abuse have been emotional, financial and physical.
Equally concerning has been plight of elders staying at old age homes with around 20 per cent of the abuses being from managers / owners of these homes.
Inadequacies of support system:
Policy issues: The National Policy of 2011 or the New Draft Policy 2020 for senior citizens does not mention any specific measures for remedy or prevention of this social injustice. It only talks about creating measures to prevent elder abuse. Further there is no separate Ministry for elderly people at Central Government level and affairs of the senior citizens are managed by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
Legal Framework: The primary objective of the only exclusive law “The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007” is to provide effective remedies for maintenance support and welfare of parents and senior citizens. The punitive aspect of elderly abuse is not within its gamut barring the case of abandonment of parents.
Other support system: Some established NGOs like HelpAge India, Dignity Foundation, etc. are working in this area. However, the country is too big for their reach. Further, we need active support of law enforcement agencies like Police to successfully prevent cases of elder abuse. There are some “help numbers” like Senior Citizens National Helpline Government of India Toll Free number (14567) or HelpAge India National Helpline (18001801253) or Dignity Foundation number (18002678780) or Police no (100). But public awareness is very low about these provisions. Similarly, there is lack of Geriatric Counsellors in the country.
Elderly people constitute one of the most important segments of Indian economy and it is essential that they be recognized as useful assets rather than liabilities. The attitude, therefore, needs to undergo a change at all levels. We recommend that the Government of India should have a Separate Ministry dedicated to elderly people. There should also be a Special Law to protect interest of elderly people so that they do not undergo such ordeal. There is need for more NGOs to work in this space along with specialized Geriatric Counsellors. Lot more needs to be done to mobilize public support and create awareness about existing laws for protection from elder abuse through public relation activities. At district level, there should be committees of active NGOs and law enforcement agencies to prevent such abuse. And finally, we hope wisdom should prevail among the general public that a society only becomes richer by taking care of the elderly people.
Dr A K Sen Gupta, Co-Founder and Chief Trustee of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 9821128103.