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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: The Elderly Deserve Our Respect and Compassion

How many times have you been told to always be mindful of your actions and words in the presence of the elderly? In many African communities, the #elderly are revered, respected and old age is seen as a blessing. Today is #WorldElderAbuseAwarenessDay, are we treating our elders with the respect they deserve? Or do we exploit them, emotionally, physically and economically?



Growing up we were always told to respect and greet elders (in many different cultures, there is a different way of greeting elders). We would not allow ourselves the comfort of a seat in a bus if an elderly person was standing, we would allow them to be served first at any public place even if they were the last to arrive. We would aid them to walk if they had challenges in doing so. More importantly we have always been made aware of the fact that the elderly become our children/responsibility so to speak when we mature. Do we still show this empathy for our elders?

According to the United Nations (UN), elder abuse can be defined as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person”. Elder abuse can take various forms such as physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and financial abuse. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect.

The UN statement on this day emphasises that financial exploitation takes many forms. In developed countries, the abuse often encompasses theft, forgery, misuse of property and power of attorney, as well as denying access to funds. The overwhelming majority of financial exploitation in less developed countries includes accusations of witchcraft that are used to justify property grabbing, ejection from homes of and denial of family inheritance to widows.

Elderly Somali men stand in front of and African Union armoured vehicle in Qatar internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp in the Wardhigley District of the Somali capital Mogadishu 6 February, AU-UN IST PHOTO / STUART PRICE.

Elderly abuse is a global social issue, which affects the health and human rights of millions of older persons around the world, an issue which deserves the attention of the international community. 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.

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The theme for this year is “Understand and End Financial Abuse of Older People: A Human Rights Issue”.

The elderly are often exploited financially not only by institutions but even close family and friends. The Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, underscores that older people have the right to a life of dignity in old age, free of all forms of abuse, including financial and material exploitation, which could lead to poverty, hunger, homelessness, compromised health and well-being, and even premature mortality.

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Of interest is the fact that Governments in Africa are working in earnest on concerns of older persons.  The African Union adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Older Persons in January 2016 and most governments are now in the process of ratifying the Protocol and domesticate it. Countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Mauritius and several others are either giving universal pension to persons above 60 or are planning to do so.

The extent of the abuse of the elderly is unknown. We need to work hard as Africans to put mechanisms in place that can measure the extent of elderly abuse to enable effective planning in combating it. More importantly it begins with you and me, in our families and communities. Let us give respect and love to the elderly.