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Detection and law enforcement against maltreatment and abuse of older persons – UN expert urges Mauritius

PORT LOUIS (8 May 2015) – The United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, today commended the Mauritian Government’s efforts to ensure that older people fully enjoy their human rights, but stressed that “law is not enough,” and urged the authorities “to make detection of elder abuse and law enforcement a priority.”

“The authorities’ firm commitment to putting older people first needs to translate into deeds,” Ms. Kornfeld-Matte said at the end of her first official visit to the country. “Their situation cannot be seen in isolation as it is reflective of existing patterns of discrimination, marginalization and social exclusion that needed to be addressed.”

Mauritius has a population of about 1.2 million out of which around 13 percent are 60 years and above. The figure is projected to rise to 30 percent by 2050. “In terms of an ageing society, Mauritius is facing challenges that are very similar to those of developed countries,” she said.

The human rights expert noted that Mauritius, the first African country to have developed a national policy on ageing, “has a remarkable legal, institutional and policy framework on older persons and has taken a number of commendable measures in recent years to safeguard older persons.”

“The 2001 national policy on the elderly was an important step to comprehensively address the welfare dimension of the ageing phenomenon,” she said. “I trust that the Government will deploy all necessary efforts to implement the new national policy on ageing (2014-2024).”

“Mauritius is leading by example in many ways. I was impressed to learn that the Government is spending about fifty percent of its budget on social services including free health and education, which also benefit older persons,” Ms. Kornfeld-Matte said. “After all we should not forget that this is a developing country.”

The Independent Expert also highlighted the country’s non-contributory universal pension for all people 60 years and older, operating since 1976. “Financial autonomy is key to ageing with dignity,” the UN expert emphasized.

“The pension system also has an important gender dimension, since it is younger women in households who are expected to care for the elderly and reach retirement age without having been active in the formal work force, forcing them otherwise into poverty in later years,” Kornfeld-Matte stressed. “However, as this makes older persons an important income source, safeguards need to be put in place against their financial exploitation.”

The expert described the Elderly Persons Act 2005 as a crucial step to provide adequate protection to older persons against ill-treatment, be it physical, verbal, emotional harassment or financial prejudice, as well as breaking the taboo of elder abuse in the country.

“However,” she stressed, “the continued prevalence of elder abuse indicates that normative action is not enough and that further measures are required to detect, report and prevent all forms of abuse of older persons in institutional care and in family settings.”

Traditional care-providing structures, such as the extended family, are undergoing radical changes in Mauritius while at the same time the number of dependent elderly increases. This severely affects care-providing mechanisms, the housing situation as well as the health care system. “While there has been an increase of Residential Care Homes in recent years to accommodate older persons outside the family set-up, quality of care has to be ensured in all instances.

“I urge the Government to put in place, as a matter of priority, a monitoring mechanism and inspection framework. Inspections should be conducted on a regular basis and include announced and unannounced visits to ensure the protection of older persons from sexual and physical abuse and neglect,” the Independent Expert emphasized.

“There is also an urgent need for affordable, accessible and barrier-free housing for older persons in order to reduce their levels of dependency and provide alternative housing options,” she added.

“The Government’s acknowledgment of the role played by older persons in nation-building and the emphasis of the intergenerational dialogue are good examples in the context of the challenges faced by multi-lingual, multicultural and multi-ethnic societies,” the UN expert stated.

“I always stress that older persons should not merely be portrayed as physically, mentally and socio-economically vulnerable, but that is essential to emphasize their vital contribution to the society as a whole,” she said.

“Similarly, as climate change is exacerbating the inherent environmental vulnerabilities of a small island developing state like Mauritius and has a disproportionate effect on older persons, their knowledge, experience and wisdom should be taken into account when designing disaster risk reduction strategies,” the Independent Expert added.

During her ten-day visit, Ms. Kornfeld-Matte visited Port Louis as well as the Island of Rodrigues and met with various Government authorities, non-governmental organizations, and others working on the rights of older persons, as well as some older persons themselves.

A comprehensive report on her findings and recommendations will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September this year.

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. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/OlderPersons/IE/Pages/IEOlderPersons.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs 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.

Human rights of older persons: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/OlderPersons/Pages/OlderPersonsIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Mauritius: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/MUIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Mr. Khaled Hassine (+41 22 917 93 67, during the visit +41 79 752 0486 / khassine@ohchr.org) or write to olderpersons@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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