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UN expert calls for urgent action by States on abuse of older persons

15 September 2023

GENEVA (15 September 2023) – As the number of older persons in the world rapidly increases, violence against older persons remains unaddressed despite being widespread, pervasive and putting millions of older persons at risk, a UN expert said today.

“Combatting abuse in old age is not a priority at national, regional or global levels,” said Claudia Mahler, UN independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights of older persons.

In her report to the 54th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Mahler said violence, neglect and abuse in old age has far-reaching consequences for the mental and physical well-being of older persons worldwide. “Because of its multidimensional impact, adequate interventions and solutions are needed,” the expert said.

“An increase in violence against older persons was noticed during ongoing crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in armed conflicts and the consequences of climate change,” Mahler said. “Crises lead to economic setbacks, which put more strain on support structures worldwide, which in turn may put more older persons at risk of suffering from violent acts.”

The World Health Organization estimates that one in six older persons have experienced some form of violence.

While there is currently no globally accepted definition of “elder abuse”, five forms of abuse can be identified: physical abuse; psychological or emotional abuse; sexual abuse; financial or material abuse; and neglect, the expert said.

Mahler recognised hate speech as an additional form of abuse against older persons.

“Ageism plays a significant role and risk factor in the prevalence of abuse on older persons,” she said. “Negative stereotypes and bias underlie the concept of ageism and can lead to harmful consequences, including violence against and abuse and neglect of older persons”.

The expert said that while human rights standards at global and regional levels provide for protection from violence, abuse and neglect of older persons, to some extent, a legally protective regime specifically addressing the rights of older persons in international law would help and guide States to effectively prevent all forms of violence in older age.

In her report, the expert identified several actions to prevent and protect against abuse of older persons, including legislative and policy interventions, prevention programmes, provision of age-appropriate community services, law enforcement response and access to justice.

She encouraged efforts to effectively collect and analyse data on the prevalence of violence, abuse and neglect of older persons.

“Such data is crucial to provide a comprehensive understanding of the issue. The diversity of older persons should be integrated in data-collection methodologies and protocols,” Mahler said.

The expert also presented findings from her country visits to Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic and Nigeria to the Council.

Ms. Claudia Mahler (Austria) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons in May 2020. She has been working for the German Institute for Human Rights as a senior researcher in the field of economic, social and cultural rights since 2010. She was also a visiting professor at the Alice Salomon Hochschule in 2020-2021. From 2001 to 2009, Ms. Mahler conducted research at the Human Rights Centre of the University of Potsdam where her main fields were in human rights education, minority rights and the law of asylum. In 2000, she received her doctoral degree and was appointed as Vice President of the Human Rights Commission for Tyrol and Vorarlberg.Her mandate covers all countries and has most recently been renewed by Human Rights Council resolution 51/4.

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.

For more information and media requests please contact: Ms. Claire Mathellié ([email protected]; +41 22 917 49 89) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

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