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Statement of UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  It’s an excellent opportunity for all of us to pause and consider the extent of the heinous crime of abuse of older persons.  Millions of older persons around the world are abused, neglected or exploited.  This abuse takes place in the home, in the workplace, and in institutions that are meant to care for the elderly.  And what is worse, perpetrators are often close family members.

Elder abuse is widespread – it happens in every social, economic, ethnic and geographic setting. It goes on in our communities without many of us knowing about it. Such abuse takes many different forms: abandonment by family members, physical violence, financial fraud, scams, theft, inadequate care or downright neglect in nursing homes, and discrimination of all kinds.

Unfortunately, we will never know the extent of elder abuse. So many cases go unreported. Indeed, many older persons suffer in silence, afraid to report abuse because of shame and fear, especially if it concerns family members on whom they are dependent.

Older women are especially vulnerable to abuse and violence because of discriminatory societal attitudes and non-realization of human rights. This is often exacerbated by poverty and lack of access to legal protection. In some parts of the world, harmful traditional practices result in abuse and violence of older women.

Elder abuse is clearly a human rights issue. It is also a public health concern.

We cannot let this continue. We can, and we must, put an end to elder abuse.  Today, it is our grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers who are suffering. Tomorrow, it will be us.

What can we do?  First of all, we must raise awareness of the extent and implications of elder abuse. We must speak out against this terrible crime in our communities, in our countries and globally.

We must confront ageism. It has no place in a society for all ages. We must learn to recognize elder abuse. And we must not be afraid to report it. Health and social service providers, formal and informal caregivers, as well as the general public must be encouraged to report suspected elder abuse.

We must listen to the voices of older persons. They may be trying to tell us something. We must establish information campaigns and programmes to educate older persons about elder abuse. We must let them know that it is not OK to be abused. It is a violation of their human rights.

We must strengthen laws against elder abuse and we must bring perpetrators to justice.

We must expand services for victims. We must provide support, counseling, health-care, as well as hotlines for older persons to turn to without fear of retaliation when they are abused or neglected.

We must make use of new technologies to protect older persons from abuse. Smart phones, social networks and social media can all be used to protect the elderly. They can educate older persons about their rights, teach them how to recognize and prevent financial fraud and scams, direct them to available services, provide physical and emotional support, and a means for reporting crimes and abuse committed against them.

We need better data to track elder abuse in order to address the problem. Given the clandestine nature of the crime, it is essential that better record keeping inform not only the extent of abuse, but its nature, occurrence and the characteristics of its victims.

At the Second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002, the international community affirmed its commitment to enhance the recognition of the dignity of older persons and to eliminate all forms of neglect, abuse and violence. We must live up to this commitment. We must show that we care.  Our world must be free from elder abuse.