Today is World Elder Abuse Day – a reminder that elderly people deserve our respect and protection should they become frail and unable to care for themselves. Instead, many are physically and mentally abused, robbed of their pensions (often by their own offspring), and forced to care for younger family members as a result of the impact of HIV and Aids.
World Elder Abuse Day is observed annually to create awareness of these issues, and to ensure that elder abuse is reported and addressed. TAFTA will be holding a number of events throughout the week, aimed at educating families and communities on the rights of older people and the importance of reporting instances where there has been a violation of such rights.
In South Africa older people are protected by the Older Persons Act 13/2006, which criminalises abuse and states that “any action or lack of action occurring in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person” would be deemed as abuse.
Nevertheless, older people continue to be a vulnerable group. In order to ensure their safety, an integrated response by all stakeholders including the SAPS, the Department of Justice, Department of Social Development, NPOS, Faith Based Organisations, etc is required.
According to the South African Human Rights Commissions (SAHRC) report released on 6 June 2015, ”South Africa’s elderly are increasingly being mistreated‚ neglected and abandoned by family members and state officials who are primarily responsible for protecting them.”
Pensioners are battling to access social security, and are often abused by the people they live with. Other challenges include finding accommodation at old age homes, due to limited space. Countrywide, there are eight state-owned old age homes and 410 registered non-profit organisations that look after the elderly. In black communities especially, pensioners are often forced to live with their families, and provide for them from their monthly grants owing to the high levels of unemployment in these communities.
Femada Shamam, Divisional Manager of Social Services at TAFTA, is delighted that the SAHRC has completed its national investigation and launched the report. “Various commendable recommendations were made,” she said, “BUT the challenge will be the implementation of these recommendations.”
Among other things, the report calls on Government to budget for improved residential facilities, including adequate provision of food and medical supplies and the supervision of care for frail older persons in communities. It also highlights the need for measures to ensure safety and protection of older persons at pension pay points, and specifically against exploitation by micro-lenders and the illegal practice of withholding older persons’ Id documents as sureties for micro-loans.