World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

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There are several senior citizens who face abuse from their loved ones in some form or the other. On June 15, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Silver Talkies brings you the harsh truth about elder abuse and the help senior citizens can seek. 
“I would rather not talk about it,” says the reluctant lady as her relative hands over the phone to her. It’s futile asking her to speak, even anonymously. According to the relative who is taking care of her now, the lady in question, a Delhi resident aged 72, was asked by her son and daughter-in-law to leave the house after an argument and agressive behaviour from them regarding property. She took shelter with the relative believing the son would ask her to return after things cooled down. “It’s been more than seven months and we haven’t heard anything positive, even though the property is in her name,” the relative adds. The elderly woman has refused to go to court, believing that family troubles are best solved by family itself and taking refuge in God.
It may sound improbable but Elder Abuse is a grim reality.  A recent report released by HelpAge India says that nearly 31 percent of the elderly in India faced abuse in some form. The report is based on a sample survey of elderly across 20 major cities. Fifty six percent of the elderly interviewed felt that it was their son who abused them, while 23 percent felt it was the daughter-in-law. A similar study by HelpAge in 2011 on abuse as well as crime against elders in primarily poor households in nine cities, found 63.4 per cent elders naming the daughter in law, followed by the son (44%) emerged as the main abusers.
HelpAge India’s 2010 study focused on elders from the educated middle class in 8 Indian cities, where 53.6 % of the elderly stated, they were abused by their own son followed by a close second by their daughter-in-law (43.3%). The facts may be surprising but they aren’t new. Elder Abuse occurs in several families but often goes unreported or is swept under the carper for fear of going against one’s children.
What constitutes Elder Abuse? The definition adopted by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse states the following: 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.
The abuse can be physical, emotional or financial
In Bangalore, a 65 year old senior citizen was physically abused by his daughter for not bringing in any income. “I worked in Kuwait all my life earning money for my son and daughter and saw them settled,” he says amidst  sobs, adding that both his son and daughter were good to him while he earned money. Angered by the father not getting an income and fearing he would become a burden on her,  this senior citizen’s daughter hit him hard enough to break his glasses and hearing aid.

 “My daughter studied in a reputed Bangalore school, works for a well known IT company and has a good income, yet she harassed me by not offering me food at times and not letting my brothers or sisters visit me at home,” says the senior citizen who now does the odd typing work to maintain himself. He filed a complaint against his daughter at the local police station and when they failed to take action, contacted the Senior Citizen’s Helpline run by Nightingale Medical Trust in Bangalore.  The senior citizen’s daughter and wife were issued a notice, though they have so far failed to make an appearance before the Helpline’s advocate.

Why are cases of abuse on the rise? According to those who work in the area, increased  life span of the elderly and a change in traditional family values have led to cases of abuse, exploitation and desertion of older persons. Elders suffer physical, emotional, and financial abuse in silence as ill-treatment and abuse occurs mostly within the family. What makes it worse is that In India, effective support systems to address this issue are almost non existent.

Gerontologist Dr Indira Jai Prakash says that elder abuse is still a hidden problem and both victims and people who would like to help victims find it difficult to define it adequately. While legal sanctions are necessary, there is also need to sensitize people about this issue. It is also vital to have a bottoms up approach so that people who are the main target or are potential targets are made aware of how to identify, prevent and protect oneself from such situation. Community can play a very important role in both preventing the abuse as well as empowering the elders to fight back against such violation of their basic human rights.

To support this cause, Nightingales Regional Resource & Training Centre, an initiative of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Govt of India and a project of Nightingales Medical Trust in collaboration with Federation of Senior Citizen Forums of Karnataka is organizing a Workshop on the Role of Community in Sensitizing and Evolving Methods of Prevention of Elder Abuse in Bangalore on June 15.

Under this program, senior citizens would be involved in defining what they consider elder abuse, and also outline how communities can help in empowering elders to protect themselves. Instead of ‘ telling’ them, they will be’asked’.  A practical manual will be developed from the ideas and suggestions gathered.

Silvertalkies wishes this project every success. Watch this space for details soon.

About the Elder’s Helpline

In Bangalore, the Elders Helpline is a joint venture between the Bangalore City Police and Nightingales Medical Trust and has succesfully resolved over 1100 cases.t Since its inception in 2002, it has received over 45,047 calls, averaging at around 40 a day. The  helpline staff include social workers, counselors, volunteers, legal professionals and police personnel. The services offered by the Elders Helpline include helping elders in distress; facilitating police intervention in serious cases; information on personal security, medical issues and other daily needs; tracing missing  elders; creating awareness about elders’ rights, children’s responsibilities, responsibility of the public in minimising crime and violence, dispute resolution and free legal advice among others. Based in Shivajinagar, Bangalore, you can contact the Elders Helpline on 1090 or 080-22943226 (8 am to 7 pm), Monday to Sunday.

Helplines in other cities

In several other cities, Cordaid – Support Services for the Urban Elderly and HelpAge India manage a helpline. Here are the numbers:

Bhopal: 1800-233-1253

Bhuvaneshwar: 1800-345-1253

Chennai: 1253

Delhi: 1800-180-1253

Kolkata: 1800-345-1253

Mumbai: 1800-180-1253

The Dignity Foundation too runs a helpline to help elders who are being harassed or abused. Do check the following link for numbers in different cities. http://www.dignityfoundation.com/community-care/dignity-helpline.html

(With inputs from Nightingale Medical Trust)

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