“Make life better for elders” – World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Date/Location: 14 June 2013; Conference Room 5 (NLB), United Nations Headquarters

Speakers of the Governmental and UN Perspectives session: Dr Elizabeth Podnieks (Ryerson University), Kathy Greenlee (Assistant Secretary for Aging, USA), Alice Wong (Minister of State (Seniors), Canada), H.E. Charles Msosa (Malawian Permanent Representative to the UN), Charlotta Schlyter (Counsellor, Human Rights and Social Affairs, Delegation of the EU to the UN)

Speakers of the NGO Perspectives session: Susan Somers (Chair, Elder Abuse Subcommittee, NGO Committee on Ageing in NY), Helen Hamlin (Main Representative to the UN, International Federation on Ageing)

Attended by: Sunny Hor, Iman Yashruti, Norah L. Crossnohere, Alyssa Strasser

Written by: Sunny Hor

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Elder abuse is an issue of growing concern in many parts of the world. 15 June 2013 marked the 8th World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and a special event was held in the United Nations with the support of the governments of Canada and the USA to mark the occasion. Speakers of the Governmental and UN Perspectives session spoke at length on the seriousness of the issue of elder abuse, measures taken by governments to combat elder abuse and what governments can do in the future.

Kathy Greenlee, US Assistant Secretary for Aging, explained her Administration’s efforts in fighting elder abuse. Studies have found that up to 10% of elders in the US have been abused. She lamented the seriousness of this kind of abuse as no different from physical, financial and sexual abuse. The US government focuses its work on data collection and research apart from providing legal services and bringing forward the Elder Justice Act.

Alice Wong, Minister of State (Seniors) of Canada, also outlined how Canada tackles the same problem, which 4-10% of Canadian elders experienced. One reason that many elder abuses are unreported is that most perpetrators are the family, friends and caregivers of the elders, which make an emotional issue. Therefore, awareness, she said, is key to eradicating elder abuse. Canada works on educating the seniors, family and communities with a nationwide campaign and legislation but also engages local governments to work together. Particularly, she highlighted the New Horizons for Seniors Program’s initiatives to combat elder abuse.

Speakers from Malawi and the European Union also shed light on the issue in their respective regions.

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Looking ahead, Dr Elizabeth Podnieks, founder of the Day, stressed on five points that countries should consider in their further efforts with regard to elder abuse: formulation of a conceptual framework of elder abuse, the power the social media, social inclusion, education and evaluation. More insights were provided in the NGO session. Susan Somers proposes a shift of paradigm of elder abuse as health issue to a human rights-based approach, as well as the introduction of international legal instruments on elder abuse to bring countries to action. Helen Hamlin suggested advocating a culture of interactive intergenerational relationship network of courtesy and understanding and increased training for elderly carers as preventive measures of elder abuse.

To round up the event, Minister of State Wong praised it as an important step in building partnerships against elder abuse, while Assistant Secretary Greenlee gave those present a piece of ‘homework’ – raising the awareness of the issue so that a 500-person room can be filled by the next World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

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