Financial abuse of older persons is rampant and must be exposed, says UN expert
GENEVA (14 June 2018) – We must all be more vigilant and report suspected cases of abuse of older people, including financial wrongdoing, says a UN expert. The Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, says most abuse goes undetected, even when there are clear warning signs. In a statement to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on 15 June, she says many older people are at risk of being abused by their own relatives or those they trust:
“Financial abuse of older persons is rampant but largely invisible, and the problem is expected to grow dramatically with the ageing of our societies. However, it is impossible to say how big the problem is, as data is scarce because of underreporting.
Sadly, most abusers are family members. This is a particularly delicate matter. It is difficult, even for experienced professionals, to distinguish an unwise but legitimate financial transaction from an exploitative one that was the result of undue influence, duress, fraud, or a lack of informed consent. The older person may even tacitly acknowledge it or feel that the perpetrator has some entitlement to his or her assets. Some older people also have a desire to compensate those who provide them with care, affection, or attention.
The older person’s best interests have to be the overriding consideration when differentiating a transfer of assets made with consent from an abusive one. Financial abuse reflects a pattern of behaviour rather than a single event, and occurs over a period of time.
Underreporting of cases of elder abuse, including financial abuse, is a common concern. This is partly due to loyalty, shame and embarrassment of the victims, who may be afraid of retaliation, including withdrawal of affection and care.
However, one of the few ways to stop financial abuse of older people is to report it. If you suspect that someone you care about has been or is being abused, I can only urge you to speak up.”
Ms Rosa Kornfeld-Matte (Chile) was appointed by Human Rights Council as the first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons in May 2014. Ms. Kornfeld-Matte served as the National Director of the Chilean National Service of Ageing where she designed and implemented the National Policy of Ageing. She has a long career as an academic and is the founder of the programme for older persons at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.
The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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