Older persons advocate against depression
Older persons advocate against depression

Older people in most cities, towns and villages around Africa are campaigning for the right to be free from violence and abuse under international law on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Marked every 15 June, the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was officially recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 66/127 of December 2011. 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.

Older men and women in Africa join thousands of activists from across the world who, as part of HelpAge International’s Age Demands Action on Rights campaign, are raising awareness of the violence, abuse and neglect older people are subjected to, and how it can come in many different forms.

According to Dr Prafulla Mishra, Regional Director, HelpAge International, Age Demands Action (ADA) is a campaigning platform for older people that helps to challenge assumptions and prejudices. “Through the platform, older people push for policy changes that promote their rights and protect them from all forms of violence and abuse. Every year we support older campaigners and ADA partners to organise campaigns and events to bring greater awareness to the violations of rights many older people face”, he said.

On this WEAAD, 45 HelpAge International campaign partners across 35 countries are taking action.

This day comes soon after most Governments in Africa are showing increasing interests on issues of older persons. For example, the African Union has 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 hence domesticate it among their own national laws.
Besides, governments such as those of semi-autonomous government of Zanzibar, The United Republic of Tanzania, Kenya, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Mauritius and many others are either giving universal pension to persons above 60 or plan to do so.

Dr Prafulla added that there is increasing evidence of commitments by African governments to hasten the enactment of new policies and legislative instruments to shield older citizens from all forms of violence and abuse.

Often elder abuse is hidden, underestimated or ignored, considered a private matter between relatives. It is no surprise, therefore, that it is widely underreported.

“There is a lot of psychological violence against older people. If it is not accompanied by physical violence, [the authorities do] nothing about it,” said Mr Elijah Mwega, an older activist from Kenya.

Elder abuse does not only happen behind closed doors. It can happen at various public services including transport, hospitals, and markets where older people experience verbal, emotional and physical violence.

“Elder abuse is an enormous problem for older people around the world. It makes them feel humiliated, devalued, invisible and dehumanised. Something must be done to address it,” said Jemma Stovell, Campaigns Manager at HelpAge International.

Working towards a UN convention on ageing

The right to freedom from violence, abuse and neglect is one of the themes for this year’s United Nation’s Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWG) that takes place between 5-7 July, coinciding with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The OEWG has been set up to find ways to better protect older people’s rights, including the possibility of an internationally-binding convention to protect the rights of older people, and it is significant that member states will hold in-depth discussions on how violence, abuse and neglect impacts us in our later years.

“Older people’s right to freedom from violence, abuse and neglect is not adequately protected in international human rights law, nor in national legislations. It is critical that they are part of the discussion on how to change this and that governments consult them before the OEWG session in July”, says Bridget Sleap, Senior Rights Policy Adviser at HelpAge International.