VIJAY NARAIDOO

President of the Commission for the

Rights of Older People of DIS-MOI

I have read with keen interest the observations of Dr Patrick How, Chairperson of the Private Medical Practitioners Association (PMPA) in the edition of Le Mauricien of the 7 January 2021. « It’s complete decadence », he says. I cannot agree more. Earlier in December 24, 2020, still in Le Mauricien (Forum), Dr Pascale Dinan, President of the Fédération Internationale des Associations des Personnes Agées (FIAPA), I can sense her bitterness, states « l’actualité des médias en ce mois de décembre bat tous les records quant aux situations extrêmes de violences faites à l’égard de nos seniors […] derrière chaque histoire c’est le meurtre de personnes vulnérables auquel nous sommes confrontés. […] La mort est précédée de luttes, de coups, de viols ». Indeed, from Government officials, NGOs, to social workers the observations have been the same. There used to be hidden cases of abuse but today victims are coming out, proportionately small in number though, to denounce their perpetrators, if it’s not too late.

WHO facts

In a fact sheet published in June 2020 on Elder Abuse the WHO (World Health Organisation) observes, inter alia, that  ‘around 1 to 6  people 60 years and over experience some form of abuse in community settings in 2019. Elder abuse is predicted to increase as many countries are experiencing rapidly ageing populations.’ As a matter of fact we have an ageing population in Mauritius. Out of 1.3 m. we are as many as 275,000 persons 60 and above. The global population of people aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 900 million in 2015 to about 2 billion in 2050.

WHO adds that rates of elder abuse are high in institutions such as nursing homes and long term care facilities, ‘with 2 in 3 staff reporting that they have committed abuse in the preceding year’.

The Protection of Elderly Persons

Population ageing has overtime called attention in almost all quarters.

It is a matter of interest that way back in 2016 the Ministry brought forward an amendment to the Protection of Elderly Persons Act 2005 with a view to enhancing the level of protection and security of the older persons. The minister moving for the amendment observed the dreadful reality of the increasingly despicable conditions prevailing in the life of the older persons. She added many cases remained unreported. Additionally ‘the causes of elderly abuse are very often linked with the stress associated in providing care and assistance to frail and highly dependent older persons.’ A host of Honourable Members contributed to the debates. For the purpose of this article we have summarized the main points of their concern:

•Our mediation procedures include mediation, counselling and family conferencing;

•The officers of the Elderly Persons’ Protection Unit will now be empowered to cause the alleged perpetrator to appear in person before the Higher Social Security Officer, in order to provide any information with regard to any complaint made or on behalf of any elderly persons against him;

•The Elderly Watch is an important institution assisting in the organization of public awareness and sensitization campaigns on the rights of the elderly and elder abuse prevention;

•Through our relentless and concerned efforts we will certainly succeed in curtailing the growing upsurge of elderly abuse cases;

•French Court of Justice in 2015 in the case of French billionaire, Liliane Bettencourt, sentenced several persons to imprisonment and fine for abuse of weakness, abus de faiblesse. This specific offense is not in our law and this should have been remedied. A dedicated office would need to be created the legal provisions of which should have been included in this Act;

•Government has also pledged to provide special support care to elderly persons with disabilities and those living alone as part of its strategy to provide a ‘service de proximité’ to them;

•Family Welfare and Protection Officers assist victims of domestic violence to the nearest District Court for application of Protection/Occupation/Tenancy Orders under the Protection from Domestic Violence Act;

•The responsibilities of the Police Protection Unit consist of receiving such problems and listening to the victims, investigating into the matter, arranging for investigations and coordinate investigations in cases of gender-based violence, elderly abuse and family conflicts;

•The elder person who is dependent on the very person who may have been the perpetrator of the violence, of the abuse, of the neglect, of the violent act, will say ‘I do not want to go ahead’;

•The older people are deprived of their liberty to manage their own money and when they get their pension, they do not know how to spend it;

•Talking about the abuse on the elderly we must not forget the healthcare fraud and abusers. They are often victims of unethical doctors, nurses, hospital personnel, and other professional care providers. They are often charged for healthcare which has not really been provided;

Les ainés sont livrés à eux-mêmes, soit seuls dans leurs maisons ou dans des maisons de retraite. Ils éprouvent un sentiment d’impuissance et de vulnérabilité. Ceux qui habitent avec leurs enfants sont souvent maltraités, devenant même un fardeau pour ceux-ci. Ceux qui habitent dans des maisons de retraite se plaignent du mauvais traitement;

•L’Observatoire de Vieillesse du ministère de la Sécurité sociale propose le besoin de former des  respite carers pour aider les personnes qui s’occupent des parents âgées. Ceux qui s’occupent d’un ainé au bout d’un certain temps sont fatigués, extenués, accablés et deviennent dépressifs, d’où le besoin d’un respite carer, c’est-à-dire, d’une assistance temporaire pour la surveillance des personnes âgées pendant que les enfants se reposent et se détendent;

•Il faut un gender approach. La surveillance des dames ne doit pas seulement être axée sur leur santé et bien-être mais aussi sur leur sécurité;

•We see elders being discriminated on the ground of age, access to work. Very frequently, we will see in vacancies, if you are above 40, even in the civil service if you are above 40, you are not allowed to apply for a particular type of work;

•Food have been placed within reach next to the bedside of the old person with no carers, no one around and no supervision.

In summary, the National Assembly voted in favour of the amendments. (Hansard No. 29 0f 2016). The speeches of the Honourable Members are as pertinent today as expressed then.

Domestic Act of Parliament and International Convention

We are proud to be a country with such an ‘arsenal’ of structures, defined roles of people with responsibilities each as important and strategic as the other: Ministry cadres, civil society and the grass root. This issue of elder abuse cannot be treated in isolation: it has to rope in the Education system from home/kindergarten to academia, to adult education, to University of 3rd Age that can give a meaning to the life of older people. NGOs advocating human rights should join in a coalition to educate the people in their institutions, in their work place and in their close environment. The contents of adult education on old age are the same but the methodology is in dire need of revision.

Contrary to the Protection of Elderly Persons Act, 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’s and man’s rights 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’’ (Ref: HelpAge International)

DIS-MOI has on several occasions, in the media and in its conferences, explained how the mechanism we have is exemplary by virtue of its clearly defined objectives. We continue to support Government in its position for the advent of a new UN Convention for the rights of older people in the debates of the Open Ended Working Group on Ageing, and also in its intention of signing and ratifying the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Older People.

Will these Conventions and Protocols bring any change, people ask. We have the experience as a signatory of Conventions, one being on Women’s Rights and another one being on Children’s Rights. True, in spite of these Conventions we still have departures and deviations but the onus is on us all to respect the clauses of these instruments and account for our mistakes.

We have clear policies and we can serve as an example to various countries. It is time we were more vocal at the UN and at the AU as we can serve as a vanguard to move and progress on debates thereat.