World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: India worst in elder exploitation and abuse in Asia, says study

Despite strict law & helpline, elder abuse continues to rise in India

Society

June 15, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: India worst in elder exploitation and abuse in Asia, says study

71 pc of senior citizens are sexually, physically, mentally, and financially abused or humiliated by their own family members, relatives or children, says report

Though since 2007 India has had a strict law prohibiting elder abuse, the country continues to top the Asian region in the number of incidents of abuse say reports. Property and inheritance amongst top reasons for abuse as almost half of the elderly population of India has reported abuse, almost always by their children and other family members. On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Media India Group looks at how widespread the abuse is in India.

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Last month, on May 26, a court in Haridwar in Uttarakhand ruled that children who abuse their parents while living in their house should be evicted from the property. The court was hearing a plea filed by six elderly couples from various parts of the state alleging that their children had abused and assaulted them.

The Haridwar case is hardly the only one. Several other courts have ruled on elder abuse, which is reported to be widespread across India. ‘‘A parent facing ill-treatment/harassment can seek eviction of his children and legal heirs from any type of property under the law that protects senior citizens,” a court in Delhi had ruled in 2018.

Various surveys put the number of elders who have been abused from just over 50 pc to well over 70 pc. Some other surveys say that India has the worst record in terms of elder abuse across Asia and that despite a strict law against elder abuse being in place for 15 years, such cases have been rising across the country.

Though elder abuse is a growing international problem with several manifestations in different countries and cultures, in India, 71 pc of senior citizen are sexually, physically, mentally, and financially abused or humiliated by their own family members, relatives or children, widowed women faces more vulnerable and more severe forms of abuse and damage, says a survey conducted by an NGO, Agewell Foundation. . Another survey puts India as the worst country for elder abuse. “India is the leading Asian country in terms of elder exploitation and abuse,” says a report by the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA).

According to the 2011 census, the elderly make up 8.6 pc of the total population and almost 15 million elderly Indians live all alone and close to three-fourths of them are women. The World Health Organisation estimates that the elderly population is increasing by 3.5 pc per year, by 2050, around 20 pc of India will be senior citizens.

A report by LASI, a national survey of scientific investigation of the health, economic, and social determinants and consequences of population aging in India, says that the abuse can classified as physical, sexual, psychological, financial or neglect of parents. It adds that 23.7 pc physical ill-treatment occurs in form of hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, burning by their children or relatives. LASI adds that 52.6 pc elders experienced neglect and close to a quarter experienced economic exploitation 26.5 pc, which means misuse of an elderly person’s money, property and assets.

Severe impact on elderly population

Doctors say that though abuse can be traumatic for everyone, the elderly are especially vulnerable and can suffer from long-term damage due to abuse. Dr Saranya TS, Professor of Psychology at Lovely Professional University, at Phagwara in Punjab tells Media India Group that though mental and physical abuse is a trauma for all, it can have significant impact on the mental health of the elderly because they are helpless and completely dependent on their children or grandchildren. Saranya adds that some of the elders may have lost their spouse or may be fighting some medical conditions, enduring abuse in such cases can lead to rise in sense of insecurity, fear, anxiety, depression or even suicidal ideation. In turn these can have a negative effect on their physical health, Saranya adds.

‘‘When the children neglect or refuse to listen to their elderly parents, they develop a sense of powerlessness or may think that they are no more wanted or some even develop an inferiority complex and start alienating themselves from their children, suppressing their emotions,’’ says Saranya. As a result, about 30 pc of the elderly population in India suffers from one or the other mental illnesses.

A number of cases of the abandoned or traumatised elders resorting to death by suicide has been reported from across the country. On June 14, 1998, the aged parents of diamond trader Balakrishna Dalal and her wife Sonal, Vasudev and Tara jumped and fell to their death from the eighth floor of the Grand Paradi building at Kemps Corner in south Mumbai, as their son and daughter-in-law harassed and abuse them. The National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) 2015-16 mentions in their survey that abuse as an important risk factor for suicide, and the overall risk of death by suicide in the elderly is double that of the younger population.

Though data is not readily available, there is adequate anecdotal information on the elders turning to suicide as a way out of their problems. A report by the NCRB said that in the state of Odisha alone, over 500 elderly persons died by suicide in 2013, a significant increase from 351 deaths by suicide in 2012.

However, some of the elder persons do get rescued in time. On August 14, 2020, an 80-year-old senior citizen from Budha Gujjar, Muktsar, Punjab was rescued by a local NGO. The senior citizen was found half naked and maggots crawling on her hand. She was abandoned even though she had two sons and a granddaughter, all of them relatively well-off. A week later, on August 23, 2020 another shocking incident was reported from Bhiwani in Haryana where a 55-year-old lady had jumped in an abandoned well because her daughter-in-law and son abused her physically and emotionally and snatched her husband’s pension.

These incidents have taken place despite a law having been passed in India way back in 2007, making it mandatory for the children and grandchildren to take care of the parents and grandparents. The law mandates that maintenance tribunals may be constituted by states to decide on the monthly maintenance amount payable to senior citizens by children and relatives. It says that the amount may not exceed INR 10,000 per month and that the children and relatives must pay maintenance amount within 30 days of the order of the Tribunal. Failure to pay can lead to imprisonment of up to 3 months, or fine of up to INR 5,000, or both.

In another step to help the elderly, on October 1, 2021, on the occasion of International Day for Older Persons, Vice President of India Venkaiah Naidu inaugurated ‘Elder Line’ a helpline number, to provide free information, guidance on pension, medical and legal assistance, besides giving emotional support, intervene in cases of abuse and rescue homeless elderly across the country. “As many as 79,051 serviceable calls have been received by the helpline number over the period on issues, among 79,051 calls, 4,748 calls related to elder abuse, 2,040 calls related to old age homes and 1,856 calls related to emotional support between 1 October 2021 to May 2022,” says official data from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Among different States and Union Territories, highest number of calls were received from Uttar Pradesh followed by Maharashtra. R Subrahmanyam, Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice And Empowerment said that many elders did not complain about their own children or family members, which leads to underreporting in cases of abuse against them in turn making data on the issue unreliable.

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