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Statement of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons Rosa Kornfeld-Matte at the Side Event organized by NGO Committee on Ageing, Geneva and OHCHR

on “Falling between the cracks: Abuse and Violence against older women- Marking World Elder Abuse Awareness Day-10 years on”

15 June 2015

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me first of all to express my sincere gratitude to the NGO Committee on Ageing, Geneva and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for inviting me to this event marking the 10th anniversary of the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It is an honour to be part of such a distinguished panel in order to discuss this pressing and global issue that destroys lives and families everywhere. This issue is a timely and extremely important one especially and in a period when attention has been increasingly given to the demographic transformation that our societies will face in the near future.

Abuse and violence against older persons has recently gained attention at the international, regional and national levels. Abuse and violence encompass the various forms, practices, perceptions and assumptions that exist in different groups across and within societies. In that sense, it should not only encompass physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and financial abuse but should extent to exploitation, neglect, abandonment or desertion, among others. Practices of abuse and violence could be the result of social, economic, cultural and political structures that could directly or indirectly lead to the marginalisation of older persons by their families and societies. It is global problem that occurs everywhere, regardless of socioeconomic status, in poor and rich families, in developed and developing countries. Therefore, it is important to consider elder abuse as part of a broader objective to improve the conditions of life for older persons and to respect for their dignity.

As the first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, I have been mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to assess the implementation of existing international instruments with regard to older persons in order to ensure that older persons enjoy all their human rights, whatever the circumstances. I have also been requested to raise awareness of the challenges faced in the realization of all human rights by older persons, and to ensure that older persons receive information about those rights.

Since the beginning of my mandate, I have made elder abuse one of my priorities.  For instance, in the first report that I presented to the Human Rights Council last year, I adopted a comprehensive approach to ageing, which included pressing issues such as the right of older persons to live free from abuse and violence.

During the three official country visits I have made recently to Slovenia, Austria and Mauritius I assessed how each of these States have, so far, addressed the issue of elder abuse, through a deep analysis of laws, policies, programmes and strategies and the identification of gaps as well as good practices. The reports of these official visits, with conclusions and recommendations, will be shared with all of you in September of this year.

Furthermore, my first thematic report on autonomy and care that I will present to the Human Rights Council in September will also include the situation of abuse and violence against older persons in different care settings.

In addition, I have been mandated to assess the human rights implications of the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). This Plan, makes explicit reference to neglect, abuse and violence, and establishes a series of recommendations to States and other stakeholders to tackle these challenges.

Among the actions, the Plan mentions the sensitization of professionals and education of the general public, using media and other awareness-raising campaigns on the subject of elder abuse, with particular attention to older women. It specifically mentions that older women face greater risk than men of physical and psychological abuse due to discriminatory social attitudes and the non-realization of human rights of women. Also, that some harmful traditional and customary practices result in abuse and violence directed against those who might face barriers such as poverty and lack of legal protection. The Plan further encourages the abolition of widowhood rites that are harmful to the health and well-being of women. 

Thus, any policy, plan or strategy should adopt an age perspective as well as a gender and disability perspective. This framework should address the root causes and develop preventive mechanisms, including redress mechanisms in order to hold perpetrators accountable for their acts.  

In addition, the Plan recommends actions to support services to address elder abuse, such as the establishment of health, social services and the development of training programs for caring professions and to empower older persons. In this context, any policy, plan or strategy should take into consideration the contribution and participation of older persons in order to assess their needs and break the taboo that still persists in our societies.  There is a human cost to our inaction.

This Plan also encourages research and cooperation to tackle this issue.  In fact, more data, research and analysis are needed to better assess the current situation. Have all States adopted legislation in order to translate their international obligations into concrete action at the national and local levels? Do we have regulatory and institutional mechanisms to move forward that allow older persons to manifest their mistreatment without fear of retaliation? If and when appropriate, are these mechanisms implemented in rural and remote areas?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the main challenges that I have already come across is the lack of large-scale research, indicators, and the systematic collection and analysis of data. Records of abuse and violence are difficult to obtain or sometimes even confidential.

That is why I have sent out a questionnaire to all States and other stakeholders in order to assess the human rights implications of the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. I would like take this opportunity to commend all States and stakeholders that have already sent responses to my questionnaire. I invite those who have not yet responded to send their inputs. Considering the lack of information and data, all responses will be extremely helpful and will contribute to the comprehensive report that I will present next year to the Human Rights Council.

Distinguished Delegates,

Before I conclude, I would like to say that simply being aware of about elder abuse is, in itself, not enough. We need to work together to help promote a change in attitudes, where being old should no longer be seen as pejorative but as positive. For that to happen, it is important to facilitate and actively encourage intergenerational dialogue.

Older persons should no longer be perceived as a burden to society but as participative and productive individuals who continue to make a meaningful contribution to our societies, both for present and future generations. 

On this World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, I therefore call on all Governments and other stakeholders to renew their commitment to fight against all forms of abuse and violence against older persons and to promote all their human rights. Older persons are right-holders and must be able to live free from abuse and violence and with dignity.

States, civil society, the private sector, the media, the entire UN, associations of older persons and for older persons must join forces in addressing this global challenge.  
I thank you very much for your attention.