Elderly Abuse and Neglect

At present UN recognizes elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue

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. It is a global social issue which 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.

We often assume that our greatest dangers are from strangers on dark streets or from violent men who might break into our houses. The sad truth is that the highest perils of brutal and persistent violence lurk within the intimate spaces of our homes from those to whom we are the closest. Economic dependence of older people on their children is of the significant factors of elderly abuse. India has over 90 million elderly persons above the age of 60 years and many of them suffer silently at the hands of daughter-in-laws or sons according to a survey report by Help Age India. At present UN recognizes elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue.

I shall report here actual case studies where names have been changed to maintain confidentiality. Zahid an ageing painter still spends much of his day painting walls but does not earn enough to meet his basic needs. His son denies him enough food and money for medicines. Mughli an unlettered widow is given only one meal a day. Her son refuses money for her minor eye surgery. Abdul Rashid moved with his wife to live with his son as his health declined. Both old people are forced to work all day, worst than domestic servants, they cannot move out from the quarter without permission of son and daughter-in-law, they feel choked and restless. Abdul Rashid is restricted to go to a nearby mosque for prayers and advised by his son to pray at home. Ghulam Mohmmad worked all life for his family, in old age he needed some money for minor surgery but none of his children was willing to pay, his repeated pleas were ignored. Fazii had desired in her old age to visit Hazratbal shrine once to have a glimpse of the holy relic, her plea was ignored, this last wish got buried with her mortal remains.

I boarded an over loaded bus at Khanyar there were some seats reserved for senior citizens, a very old lady in her eighties was standing, the younger crop did not bother to offer her a seat. We often see senior citizens waiting in long queue at banks, hospital counters, ration ghats, telephone billing counters, young ones do not bother to give them space. Rather they are pushed, and everyone seems to be in a state of hurry. An old lady partially disabled carrying a walking stick near Athrout Nawa Kadal in the chilly cold morning was asking for a lift. Many cars passed by but she was left un-noticed. No one bothered to offer her a lift. Old father in his eighties was asking his son some queries regarding mobile technology, his son got irritated, shouted at him, snatched mobile phone from his hand and told him in an arrogant tone that it does not suit his age. We are so much self-centered that we need to re-read and re-reflect on the poem ‘Somebody’s Mother’ which was once part of our English syllabus in class 10th. A gentleman introduced his mother to his office colleagues, while his mother was conversing with his colleagues he was feeling uncomfortable and interrupted her frequently.

Ab Karim has a reasonable income by renting out his shop, the income from this shop became the bone of contention for which he was harassed. An old widow requested me to fill the withdrawal slip in a bank. She was entitled to a pension of Rs 10,000 of her late husband. Her son snatched all this money and even refused to pay for her medical costs. Her emotional bonding with her son and her grand-children give her strength to tolerate this all at the hands of her daughter-in-law. One Government employee serving in a city brought her widowed mother from village to city and pushed her into one corner of the room, rarely took out for outing. She felt choked and caged. The investigator conducted older persons property victimization survey in some areas of Kashmir. The survey revealed that houses of elders hide an ugly truth. One in every two elderly person is facing harassment over property. During this investigation I desired to meet one of the veteran teachers of yester-years in connection with preparing a tribute diary; their family members did not allow me to meet him. I had to return disappointed from the gates thrice. Two months back, I read a small obituary in the newspaper that this veteran teacher is no more. He died as an unsung hero.

One day I stopped at Babdem near scrap market. I purchased an old trunk. I found some old books, religious scriptures, diary of academic accomplishments, PhD Thesis and a bundle of original certificates in it. One original certificate was of doctorate awarded in 1969 by Aligarh Muslim University. I wanted to return certificates, books and thesis to the person. After painful search I learnt that person had died three months back. One lady from his home admitted that she had sold the old trunk to scrap sellers and these certificates were of no use to them. In my neighborhood there was an old blind man who was living in his ancestral home for decades; he even used to lead prayers in the nearby mosque, and was well connected on the social web. At the fag end of his life his children forced him to migrate to a new place against his wishes. He felt socially disconnected, caged and suffered a massive heart attack. Few months back my aunt was admitted in an emergency at SKIMS. An old man complaining of severe chest pain was admitted there. He was not accompanied by any attendant. When he entered the bathroom in the emergency at around 4.00 a.m he fell unconscious and died there. Finally Rainawari police station was contacted to trace his residence.

Rather’s son took control of his finances and drained his account leaving nothing to pay his bills; no one reported financial abuse. When the elderly die a library is lost and volumes of wisdom and knowledge are gone. Love your parents. We are so busy growing up we often forget they are also growing old. The worst feeling is not being lonely, it is being forgotten. Current research demonstrates that the primary abusers of the elderly are adult children and other family members, indicating that violence against elderly persons occurs mostly at home. It has been suggested that family stresses, both psychological and financial, may be a contributing factor to elder abuse. If young children are in a home where this form of violence occurs, this experience can have an impact on them. Research has demonstrated that children exposed to violence, whether they are the intended victim or witnesses to violence perpetration, are more likely to have behavioral problems and later become perpetrators of aggression and violence themselves. Parents are the most influential role-models in children’s lives. If a child witnesses his or her parent abusing an elderly family member, that child learns that acting aggressively toward elders is acceptable behavior. Finally I call upon all concerned actors to design and carry out more effective prevention strategies and stronger laws and policies to address all aspects of elder abuse. Let us work together to optimize living conditions for older persons and enable them to make the greatest possible contribution to our world.

Dr Showkat Rashid Wani, Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

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