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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: 'I went to interview an older woman but she'd been killed for her land.'

12 Jun 2014

Elder abuse is a global problemAs World Elder Abuse Awareness Day approaches this weekend, I am reminded of one of the most shocking things that I have experienced in my career.

Some years ago, I was visiting a grandmother who was looking after her two young grandchildren in a mountainous region of Uganda. We got out of the Land Rover with our country staff and walked over to her shamba, expecting to have a relaxed working day in the countryside.

Instead we were greeted with the news that she had been killed. People came out of their huts to tell us the story. The two grandchildren emerged from the family hut, looking bereft.

Neighbours told us she had sold some land but had not been paid for it. Venturing over to her debtors to ask for the money, instead of paying her, they had killed her.

A global issue

The shock of hearing this has never left me. The ramifications for this family were immense and I wonder just how many other families across the world have suffered a similar fate.

There is pitifully little research on violence and abuse against older people but what there is shows that this happens to older people everywhere, both north and south. It's a global issue.

HelpAge International is calling for a UN convention on the rights of older people.

It would provide governments with a legal framework, guidance and support to help them protect and promote older people's rights in our increasingly ageing society.

A convention is important because people need to recognise what is happening to older people. Many are being subjected to physical, verbal and sexual abuse, while others are being tricked out of land and property.

Measures to prohibit violence

We were recently told about a young man in Mozambique who had started beating his 65-year-old grandmother and accusing her of witchcraft, saying she was bringing him bad luck.

Paralegals became involved and tried to persuade him to stop being violent but he continued, inflicting head injuries and hospitalising her.

He was eventually detained and when his grandmother came out of hospital, the paralegals ensured she got access to free urban transport, health care and a government food subsidy, meaning she was less dependent on her grandson.

When the young man came out from his short detention the paralegals worked with him again, to ensure the violence stopped. They are now living well together.

A new convention would set standards prohibiting violence against older men and women that currently don't exist in international human rights law. It would draw attention to this widespread violence that is currently being ignored or denied in many places.

Very few older women and men report violence to the authorities or seek justice for the crimes committed against them.

A new convention would require governments to change their national legislation so that it prohibits this kind of violence and provides access to justice to those older people subjected to it.

We have collected over 200,000 signatures calling for a UN convention on the rights of older people and are out collecting more, so please sign the petition here - it's important.

Your comments

Shegufta Sharmin

All these stories remind us still far way we have to go...

Kay Miller

I am surprised not to see Canada or the United states on your list, is there any reason for this.


Hi Kay, thanks for your comment. Could you elaborate on which list you mean? Thanks, again, Sarah (HelpAge).

Ellah Nyirongo

Kindly assist us with the theme for this years WEAAD. (Senior Citizens Association of Zambia)

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Author profile

Sarah Gillam
Country: United Kingdom
Job title: Media Relations Manager

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.