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Protecting the elderly from abuse

Protecting the elderly from abuse

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is celebrated every year on June 15 to build strong support and awareness for elderly individuals present in society. People rarely talk about abuse, especially elderly abuse. It is a taboo in the Nepali community. The traditional Nepali society focuses on taking care of the elderly present in the family, mostly their parents who cared for them throughout their lifetime. Due to the gradual transition in society, it is noticed that older parents are usually neglected in the family. This often pushes elderly people toward isolation and depression. 

The elderly also face abuses in our society, which they can never even express or explain. Physical torture, such as beating and thrashing, is commonly recognized as abuse, yet abuse encompasses more than just violent behavior. Neglecting and ignoring elderly parents is equally harmful. This neglect fosters feelings of insignificance, causing seniors to disengage from normal activities and lose their sense of purpose in life. The elderly cannot reveal their pain since the norms and values forbid aged individuals to report the incidents of domestic abuse they face. They try to hide their feelings and feel guilty even if they complain about their children. The matter is not taken to the public sphere considering it a family issue without bearing in mind the sufferings they bear at this stage of life. 

The Constitution of Nepal 2015 has stipulated the fundamental rights of senior citizens in its Article 41, which ensures old age allowance, health services and transportation facilities for them. Further, the amendment of the Senior Citizens Act 2022 has also brought hope to lessen the inequality and irregularities vis-a-vis the issues facing elderly people. The children who misbehave with their parents are punished by the state.  However, there is a weakness observed in implementing the law. 

Many incidents are occurring regarding elderly abuse every day. The so-called literate people in the surroundings ignore it as the problem being personal and not concerning to all. No one wants to interfere in other people’s issues and often the victims are hesitant too. Mostly unaware of formalities that are required for complaint, the victims are forced to suppress their pain and accommodate themselves into their families somehow. I knew an elderly widow (79 years) from an urban area in Nepal. She was a beautiful, strong and curious lady, who visited Kathmandu every year for medical and recreational purposes. She was pregnant and a teenager when her husband passed away. She struggled throughout her life to raise her only son as a single mother. She would keep herself active, reading newspapers and listening to the radio to keep herself updated on the current political and social setting in Nepal. Whenever I met her, she would show interest in household activities like the preparation of meals. She would show this interest even in the household of her relatives she would visit in Kathmandu, considering them to be her close family.  Even though she used to motivate people around her with inspirational stories about the struggles that she lived through, there was a grief she would try to hide, something which she spoke about rarely.

Asked about her son and other family members, she used to be upset and would ignore the conversation. At times, she would hold back tears trying to keep the neglect from her children hidden from her other relatives. Rarely, when she could not bear the pain, she would casually admit the atrocities of her son and daughter-in-law. There are cultural constraints and stigma, which restrict people from offering proper advice. There is also a lack of information about the process of registering a complaint against their abusive family members. Depending on an uncomfortable family for support can make things harder for the elderly, leading to worse outcomes. A day came when a very untoward incident occurred, the elderly lady who had always seemed so brave could not tolerate the misbehavior of family members and resorted to taking her own life. 

She had struggled throughout her life to bring up her only son, who ignored and neglected her throughout lifetime, taking property and never acknowledging or even speaking to her. She stayed alone doing her everyday chores on her own. I have not been able to get this event out of my head. I could never have imagined a bold and daring lady like her who took such a step. It must have been unbearable pain that she felt that she could not share with people around her. In the past five decades when she was young, she could bear the agony but over time she took such a step in her last stage of life. Most of us normally feel that the elderly members of our family are happy and content as they smile and never complain about their lives. We often ignore asking about their problems and avoid spending time with them. Their external appearances may hide their true feelings and mislead the family members. Even if the government has planned to reward the family members of the elderly who treat them properly, the nuances in the family are yet to be reviewed and implemented. 

There are very few abuse reports registered in police related to the elderly mainly due to the culture of the society. There is also a lack of information sharing about laws associated with the elderly at the local level. A Judicial Committee (Nyayik Samitee) is formed in each of the 753 local-level units, the deputy mayor in municipalities and the deputy chairperson in rural municipalities are responsible for justice in specific issues. Their duty involves resolving disputes and creating harmony in society. With the change in the demographic structure of Nepali society, from joint family to nuclear family there is a need to monitor elderly citizens residing in or outside the family. Further, there is also a prerequisite to know whether the elderly are aware of the rights and legal procedures relevant to help them. The psychological and emotional torture the elderly bear in the form of harassment, humiliation and control of their action often leads to depression and anxiety. When it is intolerable, people can take steps like ending their lives. It is important to identify and take action against elderly abuses going on in families and society to build safe and peaceful areas for all individuals to live gracefully and with dignity. It is imperative for a civilized society and local government officials affiliated with the Judicial Committee to vigilantly oversee and regulate activities concerning the elderly across all facets of community life, placing a heightened emphasis on fostering respect and gratitude toward older generations. It is not practical to adapt and follow the structure and instruction given by the international forum. There should be use of local mechanisms to reduce abuses in any form from the society. Let the law give effective punishment to abusers and create an environment where the victim can come without hesitation and speak about the misconduct they are facing. In addition to the legal remedies, there should also be social education. The younger generation should be taught about the caring and sharing of issues relating to the elderly in different areas of life. If the elderly do not feel comfortable at home with their family, old age homes can also be a viable option for living with professional assistance. The negative light in which retirement homes and care centers are viewed can be changed by creating a mechanism for monitoring and accountability of such facilities.