The world is rapidly ageing. The number of people aged 60 and over as a proportion of the global population will double from 11 per cent in 2006 to 22 per cent by 2050. By then, there will be more older people than children (aged 0–14 years) in the population for the first time in human history. People everywhere must age with dignity and security, enjoy life through full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. This is imperative because the elderly contribute to the family by dispensing the acquired wisdom, distributing their wealth and keeping the members of the family in union. Such a system of mutual support is, however, facing hardships in a modern industrial society.
People in old age suffer from various problems for a variety of reasons. Most of them suffer from diseases like arthritis, blood sugar, heart ailments and so on and need care from their children. They have spent all their life’s earnings in discharging their parental duties and are totally dependent on their children for their existence in the old age. However family and community are now recognised as being responsible for abuse and neglect of the elder. In some cases, they lead a hopeless and lonely life with nothing to look forward to. Their very existence is a painful and tragic extension of their life and they surrender everything to their cruel fate.
There are so many examples of elder abuse and neglect in our country. ‘Thalaikoothal’ in some parts of Tamil Nadu is one such example where the family gets rid of the old people by killing them. This is a cruelty, where the old man would be given an oil bath and then fed with tender coconut water twice or thrice. This would lead to high fever and renal failure leading to death within two or three days. There are also many incidences of elder abuse in other parts of our country. Many laws have been formulated to prevent such cruelties on elder people, but, above all, there should be a sociological change which would bring relief of such action.
To create awareness among the younger generation, the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was launched on June 15, 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) and the United Nation’s World Health Organisation. On March 9, 2012, the UN General Assembly established June 15 as a UN International Day. The purpose of the WEAAD is to encourage communities to recognise the problem of elderly abuse, and for countries to create policies that foster respect for elders and provide them the tools to continue to be productive citizens.
The UN agency has noted that the world needs a global response to the problem, which focuses on protecting the rights of older persons. The WEAAD involves activities to bring greater recognition of mistreatment of older adults wherever they live throughout the world, and to highlight the need for appropriate action.
The world’s older population, defined in the present context as those aged 60 years and above, now stands at around 760 million. Asia accounts for more than half of the total (414 million, including 166 million in China and 92 million in India). The older population of India, which was 56.7 million in 1991, 72 million in 2001 and 92 million in 2011, is expected to grow to 137 million by 2021.
In India, elder abuse and neglect has only recently been a subject of discussion. There are no reliable national level data in India on the prevalence and incidence of elder abuse and neglect. In fact, to a large extent it is hidden by older people, their families and communities as people do not want to acknowledge or talk about this sort of behaviour.
It is true that elder abuse and neglect are difficult to quantify as these occur in the privacy of the home, institutions, and reporting systems for elder abuse are almost absent in the country.
Evidence of growing incidence and prevalence is also being estimated by increases of old age homes and demand for institutional care and care providers / givers from outside the family. However, old age homes are not the solutions to the problems faced by elders. Although their basic wants are taken care of, they miss love, affection and emotional connection with their family members.
Given this trend, the elderly face a number of problems. The problems range from absence of ensured and sufficient income to support themselves and their dependents, to ill health, absence of social security, loss of social role and recognition, to the non-availability of opportunities for creative use of free time.
However sometimes, they involve in different family activities such as guiding younger generation, taking care of grandchildren, providing support for children when asked for, helping in household chores, developing hobbies and interests, taking up self-employment, teaching and counselling.
Economic dependence was considered a major reason for elderly abuse. Physical weakness due to age was also another reason why abuse existed and they could not fight it. Preventing family violence, including the abuse and neglect of older people, is an important community and social policy issue in many countries.
This is a problem in the whole of Ondia and needs to be solved at different levels. Under the eleventh Five-Year plan, the Government of India has taken many steps. Wellbeing of older persons has been mandated in the Constitution of India. Article 41, a Directive Principle of State Policy, has it that the State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right of public assistance in cases of old age. There are other provisions, too, which direct the State to improve the quality of life of its citizens. Right to equality has been guaranteed by the Constitution as a Fundamental Right. These provisions apply equally to older persons. Social security has been made the concurrent responsibility of the Central and State Governments.
To bring out solution to the various problems of aged people, the Indian Government declared the National Policy of Older Persons (NPOP) in January 1999, the International Year of Older Persons. The policy highlights the rising population of aged people and the urgent need to understand and deal with medical, psychological and socioeconomic problems faced by the elderly.
India passed The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act in 2007. It legally requires children and grandchildren (not minors) to maintain the health and wellness of an aging family member, where “maintenance” is defined as the provision for food, residence and medical attendance and treatment; and “senior citizen” as any person age sixty or older. This is the government’s attempt to place responsibility on family members.
Many States have general statutory provisions which can be used by older persons under certain conditions.
The policy would make a change in the lives of senior citizens only if it is implemented. The government and different NGOs have some basic responsibilities in the matter and other institutions as well as individuals with need to consider how they can play their respective roles for the wellbeing of older persons. Collaborative action would go a long way in achieving a more humane society which gives older persons their legitimate place.
The elderly in Odisha are more vulnerable, and in this context, the issue of social security assumes greater significance. To understand the nuances, a study of some demographic and socioeconomic indicators of older persons in terms of their living arrangement, extent of economic independence, economic service-providers and health condition is required. More studies are required to assess the growing insecurities being faced by the aged in Odisha.
Our elders are our asset, and they need to be supported and empowered.
On this day, we should create awareness about elders and give them dignity, security and care. Youths and elders should live together which would strengthen the family environment and the society as a whole.