Elderly abuse in India: “It’s high time to speak up now for elderly rights and protection”

by Dr. Santosh K. Yatnatti

India is the second most populated country in the world with the population of around 1.3 billion with old people accounting for 104 million. Out of which, 53 million are females and 51 million males. The decreased mortality rates and increased life expectancy have contributed to more percentage of elders compared to previous years. The proportion of elderly moving to urban areas is higher when compared to their rural counterparts, where majority are elderly men. The elderly people suffer more on the account of disability, chronic disease, terminal illness, dementia and depression, accidents, falls, nutritional deficiencies, loneliness, etc. The major reason for elderly isolation and loneliness is migration of younger generation from villages to different cities (urban areas) for economic opportunities. Furthermore, they are subjected to elderly abuse, associated by neglect and isolation, as they depend on their families for emotional and economic support; which is most often neglected by their children.

In olden days, old age was never considered as a problem in Indian scenario, as traditionally joint families existed, where elderly were the head of the families in all decision-making processes ranging from family decisions to financial decisions. Everyone in the society was respecting and supporting the elders as per the cultural and traditional norms. However, due to increase in nuclear families, westernization, urbanization and migration of their kith and kins, the elderly has become an easy prey for victimization and elderly abuse.  The World Health Organization (WHO) defines elder abuse 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.” According to WHO, 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 National Crime Records Bureau in 2014 reported 18714 incidences of crime against senior citizens and as a whole the rate is 18.3% in India. A study done by Agewell India on 2705 respondents revealed that 65.2% of elderly respondents accepted that there is elderly neglect. More than half (54.1%) of the respondents said that older persons suffer elder abuse either in their families or society. One in every fourth elderly admitted that they are being exploited by their family members themselves. Majority of the respondents faced mistreatment due to financial reasons (89.7%) and emotional factors (96.4%). The elderly in urban areas were neglected more than in the rural areas.

In a study done by Punita Govil in 2014, 44% of elderly abused people lived with their only son and daughter-in-law, 25.1% with their son’s family and daughter, 9.9% live with their daughter and son-in-law, 8.9% live in large joint family, 7% live with spouse or alone; while 2.3% live with their son or daughter and for the remaining 2.8% precise assessment could not be done. It is also noticed that 72% of the abused elderly people belong to the age group 60 – 69 years, 25% of them belong to the age group 70 – 79 and only 3% of them are of 80 years or above 80. At the national level, it has been found that 50% of the elders have experienced abuse personally, while 83% of the elders reported that abuse is prevalent in the society. In 2013, the ratio of personal experience of abuse was 23.10%. It depicts that cases of elder abuse have increased rapidly in one year.

A survey conducted by HelpAge India in 2014 found that elderly abuse was more in females (52%) than in males (48%). The main abusers were found to be daughters-in-law, followed by sons and daughters. The reasons for abuse were again similar to the previous study, which are emotional and economic dependence.

The following are some of the personal experiences of the participants,

“Our financial dependence on our son and daughter-in-law has turned us into their servants.”- Ramanna*, 68, Bengaluru.

“My own Nephews beat me so brutally that I couldn’t move out of bed for 7 days.”- Gautam Das*, 62, Kolkata.

“I don’t receive a word of love or affection.” – Dayavati*, 72, Hyderabad.

“At my son’s place, I am given just two chapattis in a day.” – Mansi Devi*, 60, Delhi.

Even though there are various constitutional and legal provisions for the safe guard of senior citizens to live their life in respectful manner, the current scenario of elders is very pathetic. Senior citizens in the country can get assistance in case of mistreatment or abuse under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007. This law makes a legal obligation for the children to take care and maintain their parents. Under this Act, parents and grandparents who are unable to maintain themselves from their own incomes can demand maintenance from their children.

The Act also has a provision of ‘Childless Senior Citizens,’ wherein; the elderly can demand provision for maintenance from their relatives. Maintenance includes provision for food, clothing, residence, medical attendance and treatment. They can receive assistance demand maintenance up to Rs.10,000. The Act states and encourages the government to open and manage new old age homes, which can accommodate 150 elderly people. The children can be punished under section 24 for any mistreatment of the elderly with a fine of Rs. 5000/along with imprisonment for 3 months.

Unfortunately the awareness of this Act is extremely low among the elderly in India. According to a survey done by HelpAge India in 2014, one in five elders is unaware of any available legal entities towards prevention of elder abuse. The awareness of the existence and the provisions under Maintenance Act is low, only 14 % of abuse victims were aware of the law.

The United Nations celebrates World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15th of June every year. This year’s theme was “Understand and End Financial Abuse of Older People: A Human Rights Issue”. The 2017 theme mainly focused on the importance of preventing financial exploitation in the context of elder abuse to the enjoyment of older persons’ human rights.

The best available solution to prevent elderly abuse is to spread awareness about all the available welfare acts, preventive acts, which are helpful for the elderly. The whole Indian population should participate in days like World Elder Abuse day in large scale, actively and enthusiastically. The elderly should be respected and taken care of with the supportive supervision of their own children or relatives. The elderly should become bold enough and come out of their emotional zone (fear of compromise in their family prestige) and fight for their own rights.

More and more NGOs should be developed and encouraged in rural and urban areas to empower elderly and prevent elderly abuse. The importance of taking care of elderly should be instilled in the young budding minds right from the school level for better behavioural outcome towards elderly. The traditional joint family should be encouraged to combat this problem. A universal India specific helpline should be made available for all the elderly in the country. Also, to the young and middle-aged population, it should be clearly emphasised that they would also face the same situations in years to come. The mindsets of the younger generation need to be constructively framed to provide elderly welfare and protection.

The primary prevention in terms of health awareness is the future key of success in curtailing the elderly abuse incidences in the near future. There is a need of comprehensive effort from the respective governments, NGOs, elderly themselves and, their own kids and relatives in order to prevent elderly abuse.




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