Africa: Rights Expert Appeals for Action to Tackle Elder Abuse

15 September 2023

A UN-appointed human rights expert on Friday called for urgent action and better data to stamp out the widespread problem of elder abuse.

Claudia Mahler, UN independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights of older persons, made the appeal in her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

She said violence against older persons remains unaddressed despite being widespread, pervasive and putting millions of older persons at risk, amid a rapidly ageing world.

Not a priority

"Combatting abuse in old age is not a priority at national, regional or global levels," she added.

Ms. Mahler cited information from the World Health Organization (WHO), which estimates that one is six older persons has experienced some form of violence.

In her report, she noted that violence, neglect and abuse in old age has far-reaching consequences to both mental and physical well-being, underscoring the need for adequate interventions and solutions.

Cases spike in crises

"An increase in violence against older persons was noticed during ongoing crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in armed conflicts and the consequences of climate change," she said.

"Crises lead to economic setbacks, which put more strain on support structures worldwide, which in turn may put more older persons at risk of suffering from violent acts."

While there is currently no globally accepted definition of "elder abuse", she said five forms of abuse can be identified: physical; psychological or emotional; sexual; financial or material; and neglect.

Ageism fuels abuse

Ms. Mahler also recognised hate speech as an additional form of abuse against older persons.

"Ageism plays a significant role and risk factor in the prevalence of abuse on older persons," she said.

"Negative stereotypes and bias underlie the concept of ageism and can lead to harmful consequences, including violence against and abuse and neglect of older persons".

Prevent and protect

Ms. Mahler's report identifies several actions to prevent and protect against abuse of older persons, including legislative and policy interventions, prevention programmes, provision of age-appropriate community services, law enforcement response and access to justice.

She also encouraged the effective collection and analysis of data on the prevalence of violence, abuse and neglect cases.

"Such data is crucial to provide a comprehensive understanding of the issue. The diversity of older persons should be integrated in data-collection methodologies and protocols," she recommended.

Independent voices

Independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor specific country situations and thematic issues.

They work on a voluntary basis. serve in their individual capacity and are independent from any government or organization.

The experts are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work.

AllAfrica publishes around 500 reports a day from more than 90 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.