Solutions beyond mere legislation are needed to address elders’ abuse
UN General Assembly resolution 66/127 of December 2011 designated June 15 as the World Elders Abuse Awareness Day. It is the one day every year, when the world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted to some of our older generations.
Hyderabad, Team TT
For all the talk about reaping the demographic dividend by India, which boasts of the largest share of young in the world and will continue to do so for the next 20 years, a disconcerting fact, often conveniently ignored, is that the share of the aged in the country is growing at a faster pace than its youth.
According to data put out by Helpage India the proportion of old (60 years and above) in India had grown to the level of almost 9% of the total population in 2011 compared to 7.4% in 2001 with interstate variations. In absolute numbers, India had 104 million old people with 53 million females and 51 million males; 71% living in rural areas and 29% in urban areas in 2011. The decadal growth of old age population was alarmingly as high as 36% during 2001-11, compared to 25% in the previous decade.
According to a UN Population Fund India report the percentage of the elderly, is expected to go up in India to 19% in 2050 – from the current 100 million plus to over 300 million. The same study notes the global population of the aged during the same period will double reaching two billion accounting for 22% of the world population outnumbering those under the age of 15 years for the first time in history.
The reasons for this are not difficult to fathom. Impressive improvements in healthcare has resulted in increased life expectancy even though this in its turn results in other issues like an increased burden on the resources of a country, posing a challenge for policy-makers and caregivers.
However, what policy-makers often tend to ignore is that while this population is declared aged and often considered a burden, a significant chunk of it is still productive and capable of contributing to society given the right environment, opportunity and support.
What is often ignored is that while this population is declared aged and often considered a burden, a significant chunk of it is still productive and capable of contributing to society given the right environment, opportunity and support.
In fact, according to a 2017 study by Helpage India on elders’ abuse in the country, despite being considered retired, nearly 18% of elderly men and 11% of women are keen to find post-retirement work. Furthermore, though not necessarily up-to-date, from a profile perspective the aged have better education, qualifications and experience than the younger population. But it is easier said than done to find post-retirement work for the aged even if they fit and able.
In contrast however, tagging them retired and beyond use, is reason enough for many to start treating them differently at times even to extent of being cruel, more so at the hands of the “near and dear”. If international bodies working in the area are to be believed, the incidence of elderly abuse, most commonly harassment and ill-treatment, has been on the ascendency for the past many years.
According to a preliminary survey of four states in India by Helpage India to ascertain the implementation of the “Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007”, based on data from petitions filed with District Tribunals under the Act, the most common type of harassment is physical abuse which includes beating and hitting. About 58% of the petitioners underwent physical abuse such as beating, hitting and all kind of physical assault by their own children or son/daughter in law. Another 27% underwent mental torture, while 7% of them faced negligence, shouting and use of bad words. Physical abuse is the highest in Punjab, mental torture is highest in Kerala and negligence is highest in Tamil Nadu, the study noted.
Elders Abuse Awareness Day
Elder abuse is a global social issue that 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, notes the United Nations. Concerned at the growing incidence of elder abuse, the UN General Assembly in its resolution 66/127 in December 2011 designated June 15 as the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It is the one day every year, when the world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted to some of our older generations, it observes.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the incidence of elder abuse is in fact rampant and concerted global efforts are needed to arrest it and increase awareness.
- According to the WHO around 1 in 6 people 60 years and older experienced some form of abuse in community settings during the past year.
- Rates of elder abuse are high in institutions such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities, with 2 in 3 staff reporting that they have committed abuse in the past year.
- Elder abuse can lead to serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences.
- Elder abuse is predicted to increase as many countries are experiencing rapidly ageing populations.
- The global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 900 million in 2015 to about 2 billion in 2050.
India has the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 whose implementation has been criticised time and again. Encouraging however, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has prepared the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen Draft Bill, 2018, that will amend the 2007 legislation to expand its scope and provide for more stringent penalties.
But the moot point is whether legislation alone will be enough to address elders abuse. The issue is deeper than that.
At a time when familial relationships are changing, particularly in urban areas, and the resultant isolation of the elderly from younger people, localised solutions will have to be found where the elderly feel secure, wanted and cared for. This calls for solutions beyond mere legislation with a focus on inculcating the right attitude among the young towards parents and the elderly who have lived their prime caring for their young.
Towards this the UN General Assembly Resolution 66/127 recognizes the importance of strengthening intergenerational partnerships and solidarity among generations and calls upon Member States to promote opportunities for voluntary, constructive and regular interaction between young people and older generations in the family, the workplace and society at large. The state apparatus apart, the civil society at large will have to take up this task in right earnest.