Violence against older people is a global phenomenon says HelpAge International as activists call for a UN Convention on the Rights of Older People


Violence against older people is a global phenomenon says HelpAge International as activists call for a UN Convention on the Rights of Older People

Violence against older people is a global issue, says HelpAge International on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, (15 June), as activists in 40 countries call for a UN convention on the rights of older people to protect them and bring the perpetrators to justice.

  • In Bangladesh, 88% of older people were mentally abused, 83% neglected, 54% economically abused and 40% physically abused. Of the physically abused, 54% were women and 45% were men. (1) See Notes to Editors
  • In Mozambique, 17% of older women and 20% of older men surveyed had experienced physical abuse. (2)
  • In Peru, 76% of older men and 61% of older women surveyed had experienced theft, deception, eviction or other actions involving money or property. (2)
  • In Sweden, 30.8 % older men and women reported being victims of any type of abuse over the previous year. (3)

A review of 18 research surveys covering 15 countries over the last seven years showed that between 11-83% of older people reported being subjected to a variety of types of abuse. Men and women reported quite similar levels of violence and abuse in the four studies where the data was broken down by sex. But much more research data is needed on this issue, said HelpAge.

"These findings reaffirm the need for a convention on the rights of older people," said Bridget Sleap, Senior Rights Policy Advisor at HelpAge International.

"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," added Sleap.

The call for a new UN convention

Older rights activists taking part in the Age Demands Action for Rights campaign, will be urging their national governments to insist on a new UN convention on the rights of older people and ask that their leaders attend the UN Open-ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA) when it meets in New York this July.

"Globally older peoples face several problems like abuse, exploitation and neglect. To protect the rights of older people around the globe, we need a UN convention, which will create pressure on governments to think about our rights," said Osman Ghani, 67, from Bangladesh.

Violence against older people is not confined to one country or one part of the world. In Ireland, Age Action reported a harrowing tale of a woman accompanying her vulnerable friend home from hospital, only to have her friend physically and verbally attacked by her own two children when they reached home.

However, preventative work is taking place. In Mozambique, a programme working to reduce violence against older women has worked. It reported reductions of 11.3% in cases of abandonment of older people by their relatives, 7.6% of physical abuse and a 6.9% decrease in verbal abuse from baseline study levels. Local radio stations were involved in broadcasting plays and discussions about violence against older people, helping to raise levels of awareness and how to deal with it.

One of the women involved, Rita, from Boane district, Maputo province said: "Things have improved since the beginning of the project. Verbal and physical abuse by young people has reduced. The audience that participated in discussions after the broadcasting of the plays on community radio all denounced violence against older women which showed that the message was getting through to people."

Another woman, Faustina, also from Boane district, said: "Bringing older women together to discuss issues of violence and to sensitize others has made us feel different. We are more involved and are free to give suggestion on how to reduce violence."

Salvador Muchanga, a community leader in the Khongolote in Matola, who took part in the programme said: "The information on the cases of abuse against older people in our community is very important to reduce the level of violence and also to build the relationship between older people and other age groups."

A UN convention would help scale up this type of programme. Sign the Age Demands Action petition for a new UN convention on the rights of older people here:


Notes to Editors

1.World Elder Abuse Awareness Day happens each year on 15 June.

It represents the one day in the year when the whole world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted on some of our older generation. Elder Abuse is a global social issue affecting the Health and Human Rights of millions of older people, and an issue deserving the attention of the international community.

2. Eighteen research surveys covering fifteen countries looked at how many older people reported being abused. 

The research sample sizes were small and so we cannot draw inferences about the prevalence across the population as a whole but we can see multiple forms of violence being experienced by older people across different social and cultural contexts.

1. Abuse against Older People within Family Setting among Urban Poor in Dhaka City, Prof. A K M Nurun NabiDepartment of Population SciencesDhaka University. (Forthcoming publication)

2. Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, Developing an indicator-based framework for monitoring older people's human rights: panel, survey and key findings for Peru, Mozambique and Kyrgyzstan, CASE report 78, August 2013. Note: The survey sample size was 104 older people and the findings represent the experiences of those surveyed and are not intended to represent the population of older people as whole.

3. Elder abuse and socioeconomic inequalities: A multilevel study in seven European countries. Frage et Al. Preventive Medicine Volume 61 (2014)

3. Towards a new convention

Older people have the right to protection from all forms of violence and abuse as well as from all forms of discrimination. However, the human rights obligation on governments to protect people from elder abuse is not explicitly articulated in existing international human rights law. A patchwork of national legislation, policies, strategies and plans that differ from country to country undermines the universality of human rights and every woman and man's right to freedom from violence and abuse throughout every stage of their lives. For this reason, the adoption of such universal standards within a new UN Convention on the Rights of Older People would provide every government with guidance on how to improve their domestic legislation and practice, including around elder abuse, so that it is in line with international human rights standards.

4. Age Demands Action for Rights:

Older women and men have the same rights as everyone else: we are all born equal and this does not change as we grow older. Despite this, older women and men around the world continue to be discriminated against and denied their rights because of their old age. International human rights law does not currently address the specific human rights violations that people experience in old age. A new convention on the rights of older people would prohibit this area of discrimination. It would articulate how each human right specifically applies in the context of old age and outline what steps states must take to respect, protect and fulfil these rights.

Sign the ADA petition for a new UN convention on the rights of older people here:

About HelpAge International

HelpAge International helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Our work is strengthened through our global network of like-minded organisations - the only one of its kind in the world.

Contact Sarah Gillam at HelpAge International's office in London: Email Tel: +44 (0) 20 7148 7623 or Mobile + 44 (0) 77713 567624.

Translate this page

HelpAge International is not responsible for the quality of Google Translate. We know it does not translate our terminology well in some languages and we will engage with Google to improve this in future.

Tags for this page