NEW DELHI — Demographic as well as social changes contribute to the rise of elder abuse in India, mainly perpetrated by family members. As awareness of the issue increases, different actors are developing new ways that allow victims to report abuse and call for help quickly and easily.
The number of senior citizens in India is expected to rise from seven percent in 2009 to around 20 percent in 2050. The absence of a welfare safety net means that the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the younger population and that the elderly are often dependent on their relatives economically and emotionally. Besides, the societal changes brought by industrialization and modernization have led to a decline of the traditional joint family system and changed social ethos and values.
These were described as the main factors contributing to the rise of elder abuse in India in a 2016 report authored by Punita Govil and Swati Gupta, based on data collected by HelpAge India. The NGO examined 1,200 households and found that 50 percent of the participants aged 60 and above had experienced abuse before.
The perpetrators of the abuse were mostly family members, largely children or children-in-law, and much less frequently caregivers or servants. Forty-one percent of the elderly reported verbal abuse, 33 percent reported disrespect and over 20 percent reported having been neglected.
A Global Concern
Elder abuse is an issue of increasing concern not only in India but globally. A 2016 article published in The Gerontologist compares data on elder abuse all over the world, including physical, emotional, financial and sexual abuse as well as neglect, and finds the highest prevalence in China with 36 percent and Nigeria with 30 percent. Over 10 percent of elders in Europe and 9.5 percent in the U.S. had experienced abuse. Canada had the smallest prevalence of elder abuse in all countries included, with four percent.
The article’s authors state that due to a lack of research and literature on the issue and limited resources in many countries, comprehensive prevention efforts are still in their infancy. But this might begin to change as awareness is rising and the need to expand services is now acknowledged internationally.
According to the data collected by HelpAge India, less than 60 percent of victims made an attempt to report their abuse. Many participants stated that they wished to keep family matters confidential. Others did not know what to do or lacked confidence in the ability of persons or agencies to deal with the abuse.
With the help of digital technology, different actors are now offering new and efficient report mechanisms for elder abuse in India. After their alarming case study, HelpAge India itself launched an app that connects the elderly with a help line easily and quickly in case of accidents or abuse. The app additionally offers information on various issues including rights, entitlements, health and abuse. The NGO’s head of advocacy and communications Manjira Khurana stated that the app’s launch was followed by an increase of calls to their helpline.
The Mumbai police have launched the service ElderLine, connecting senior citizens to medical professionals, hospitals, volunteers, social services and counselors through a single number. The service also allows the police to track the caller precisely through GPS.
Prasad Bhide founded the mobile and web-based care system Aaji (“grandmother”) Care. Aaji Care works with professional caretakers and nurses to offer services like nursing, geriatric care and remote patient monitoring and provides its clients with a physical panic button that calls five numbers in the case of emergency. Bhide told Reuters that he is now working on a new smart device that will allow elders to call for help even more discreetly and easily.
In addition to the development of these new apps and devices, the providers are also working to call elders’ attention to their services. Of the participants in the HelpAge India report, 18 percent were not aware of any redress mechanisms.
Reporting elder abuse in India is becoming increasingly quick and easy with innovations by police, enterprises and nonprofit organizations. The new devices and apps also reflect the increased awareness of the issue in the country and globally and the willingness to take action to reduce elders’ risk of becoming victims.
– Lena Riebl