What and why of Elder Abuse!
When senior citizens are abused on account of their defenseless position by younger relatives or others ‘Elder Abuse’ takes place. Senior Citizens have less capacity to fight for their own rights because of diminishing health, poor health conditions, poverty, loss of memory, and lack of money, inability to adjust to the present generation or ignorance. The abuse may be financial, emotional and mental, physical including sexual, verbal or constant threatening etc. The son pressurizing his old aged father to transfer his property, the daughter neglecting to take care physically when one is bed ridden, not providing food, harassing by hurling verbal abuses and insults, beating, deserting, cheating by taking away the old man’s money – all these are examples of elder abuse. Let us see what each stakeholder of the whole spectrum of people connected with Elder Abuse can or should do.
What should Victims of EA do?
Senior citizens should empower themselves with facts, information and data required to face and tackle abuse. They should have phone numbers and addresses of lawyers, doctors, police, pressure groups, counseling centers and the like. Ignorance of rights and the law in particular is harmful and places the senior citizen in a vulnerable position. Senior citizens should join several associations and peer groups like walkers clubs, prayer groups, Day Care Centers etc. When abuse occurs they should openly discuss it with others without feeling shy or ashamed. Senior Citizens must make themselves financially sound and independent. They should never give away their property to their wards or disclose all their assets to everyone. Where feasible they should not hesitate to take Reverse Mortgage Loan and ensure a steady flow on income. Taking recourse to legal provisions should be the last resort. Having anger alone or standing on one’s prestige alone is not enough. Civil Suits take years to get decided and lot of time & time are wasted.
Pointers to the State and Central Governments:
Central Government: Present MWPSCA 2007 does not talk about softer issues of Elder Abuse. Provisions must be made in this to render it a comprehensive piece of legislation. Presently it is an act to tell the World Bodies like the UN: “Look Here, We also have a law on Senior Citizens”. The subject of Elder Abuse relates more to HRD (Human Rights protection) and MOSJE should liaise with HRD and promote meaningful program to handle EA issues. Standards for OAH should cover EA prevention and reporting also. State governments must adopt the Central law. Rules framed there under must include EA in OAH, Nursing Homes, Senior Facilities or Assisted living centers or Hospices. Tribunals set up under the MWPSCA need to liaise with SCAs or Resident Welfare Associations for solving EA cases.
Role of Old Age Homes & Nursing Homes:
Old Age Homes need to have staff that is sensitized about the problem of EA. They need to be aware of the consequences of negligence. In nursing homes, Residents who apprehend EA, may be accommodated in dormitories than single rooms. Even Old persons need to be taught as how to avoid or report abuse. Generally a black mailing sort of a situation prevails in cases of EA. For instance a senior citizen being abused can send an SMS to his relatives and delete the message. He need not talk arousing suspicion leading to further harassment. In nursing homes a general practice coming under abuse is to keep the victim sedated unnecessarily so that he does not give trouble. Such unsocial practices can be curbed with proper supervision.
NGOs and SCAs
They can organize centers to accept older persons dumped or deserted by their children. Thereafter find a suitable OAH to re-locate them. This is a great service. During festival seasons where very large numbers of devotees gather, granny dumping is a worry some practice. Senior Citizens Associations can conduct lectures to bring about awareness on: how to recognize EA, how to complain and how to manage the problem. They should tell old people that it is OK to complain instead of silently suffer endlessly. SCAs may liaise with local leaders, village elders, politicians, police and others to help victims seek redressal. They may take up cases to the tribunal set up under MWPSCA.
Family & its neighborhood
Members of the family: Those members who know that injustice is being done to senior citizens, may seek external help to sort out the issue. As EA is mostly a social issue covering moral and ethical values (apart from legal angle), the role of family members should not be neglected. When neighbours get to know about Abuse, instead of shying away saying ‘it is their internal matter’, they should reach out and expose the victimizer. It is easier for outsiders to bring pressure from say police than for insiders.
School teachers can sensitize their wards about the necessity of showing respect to elders. Gripping stories describing how grand children owe much to their grand parents, grandparents’ defenseless pathetic situation etc may be told. Children may be asked to take an oath that they will take care of their elders when they grow up. Case studies of EA happening around may be explained showing why this is bad and should not be tolerated. They can conduct quizzes and contests.
World Elder Abuse Day, Mother’s Day, Grandpa’s day etc may be utilized for bringing about awareness. TV, Radio, Print and the Web may be used for publishing articles. Competitions, polls, quizzes may be conducted. Walkathons may be organized. NGOs may rope in celebrities for participating in such events. Industrialists may be encouraged to sponsor such events.
In order to tackle the menace of EA we need to know the exact magnitude of the problem. We have no studies or data relating to EA in India. Research work being carried out is inadequate. Which age group suffers most? Is it men or women? What are the most important causes for EA? Why do people put up with it? What efforts are already in place for tackling EA? There are hundreds of questions but no concrete answers. Academic research departments like those of Sociology, Psychology, and Gerontology etc must engage M Phil & PhD students to take EA as an important area for in depth study.
Dr P Vyasamoorthy
Do you think government should form an operational body for the welfare of senior citizens? Let us know your views.