Skip to main content

Violence and abuse against older persons

Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons

The Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons is mandated by the Human Rights Council Resolution 33/5 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. The same Resolution further recalls the need to combat the various forms of violence against older persons, a widespread phenomenon that includes discrimination in the public sphere, linguistic and employment discrimination, lack of access, isolation, neglect, financial exploitation, physical and psychological violence and the withholding of basic needs, and physical attacks. The issue of violence and abuse has been considered one of the priorities of the mandate of the Independent Expert and is consistently addressed in thematic reports.

A global problem that takes different forms

Violence against older persons is a global phenomenon. It takes many different forms and occurs in all types of settings, including within families and in homes, the workplace, care institutions, public spaces, the media, cyberspace, and emergency settings. In addition, it can be perpetrated by a wide range of actors, including family members, caregivers, legal guardians, health professionals, government workers and financial representatives. Such violence and abuse often go unnoticed and remain a taboo in many societies.

Lack of data a major obstacle

The lack of reliable information and data constitutes one of the obstacles to effectively addressing violence against older persons. Data on experiences of violence, abuse, maltreatment and neglect in later life is largely missing—thus making it invisible. Older persons are rarely parts of surveys on violence, and indicators used may not be suitable for detecting all manifestations of violence and abuse against older persons. Existing estimates on some types of abuse point to the wide scope of the problem. The World Health Organization, for example, estimates that one in six people over the age of 60 years experienced some form of abuse in community settings. Rates of elder abuse are thought to be high in institutions such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities, with two in three staff reporting that they have committed abuse. Rates of abuse have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and are predicted to rise up as many countries are experiencing rapidly ageing populations.

Addressing violence and abuse against older persons

To understand and address violence and abuse against older persons, it is necessary to identify risk factors, prevention and protection gaps, and particularly vulnerable groups.

Older victims of violence and abuse may not be able to access adequate protection because of inappropriate and inaccessible reporting and protection mechanisms; the lack of information about rights and how to file a complaint; and the lack of legislation, among others.

Nationwide studies on the implementation of laws and court decisions relating to violence against older persons are essential to identify obstacles and problems in the implementation of existing laws. Information is required about avenues to report abuse, existing support for victims and access to remedy. Special attention must also be paid to issues that are considered taboos, such as sexual violence in later life.

Particular consideration must be given to certain groups, and in specific situations, whereby intersectional factors heighten the risk of violence and abuse, such as older women, older persons with disabilities, older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, and situations such as forced displacement and conflict settings.

Statements on the occasion of the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (15 June)

The Independent Expert joins other voices in shining a spotlight and reaffirming the urgency to address violence and abuse against older persons on the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day commemorated each year on 15 June.

Related events

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: virtual event on Access to Justice, 15 June 2021

Related links

World Elder Abuse Awareness day (June 15)