Authorities say the levels of domestic violence and abuse against the elderly is unacceptably high in South Africa. Wednesday 15th June marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, as elder abuse is not a priority on a very long list of social ills. The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children in Manenberg has seen an increase in elderly women seeking their services due to abuse by a younger relative.
“Elderly people are vulnerable to physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse. As they age, many also experience economic abuse when relatives or third parties begin to exploit them. Increasingly, family members will accompany the elderly to pension pay points just to get access to their money,” says Dorothea Gertse, head social worker at the Centre.
A number of factors, including fragmented family life and substance abuse, can contribute to elder abuse.
“The older women seeking assistance at the shelter have often taken on the role of caregiver to their grandchildren. Financially they cannot take care of the dependents they’ve been landed with and they cannot cope. Substance abuse is a major contributor to verbal and emotional elder abuse, adult children bully their parents into enabling their habit,” says Gertse.
There are various forms of elder abuse and mistreatment, including physical and emotional abuse, lack of medical care, malnutrition and financial exploitation.
Older persons, particularly women, often carry the burden of care for orphaned, young or vulnerable children. So the well-being of older persons is significant as it has a direct impact on the lives of children and young people too.
Signs of abuse include physical scars, but also behaviour like withdrawal and feelings of fear, anxiety, depression and helplessness. The abused seldom speak out for fear of further victimisation and many don’t know where to turn.
The City of Cape Town’s Social Development and Early Childhood Development Directorate runs a number of programmes for seniors that focus on healthy living, active ageing, and fostering a sense of belonging and opportunities to make friends.
“In the last two years we have rolled out our home-based care initiative where we train hundreds of people each year as part of the Expanded Public Works Programme to interact with and provide care to elderly residents who request assistance. Our caregivers are also trained to identify signs of abuse and to refer such cases for further investigation. We train 400 caregivers each financial year, but we hope to employ as many as 600 in the new financial year to meet the growing demand for the service,” said Councillor Suzette Little, Mayoral Committee Member for Social Development.
“Our caregiverays the elderly seldom speak out, for fear of victimisation and many simply don’t know where to turn. s are the City’s eyes and ears, but I want communities to work with us too. Support your elderly neighbour and be the person they can count on should they need it. Blow the whistle on abusive children who never visit their parents in the old-age home or who exploit their pensions. The list of examples is endless.”
Any elderly person who has been victim of abuse can approach a support group for assistance or report the abuser to the South African Police Service or the City’s Public Emergency Contact Centre on 107 from a landline or 021 480 7700 from a cellphone.
Other useful contacts include:
• Age-in-Action: 021 462 4249
• Action Against Elder Abuse: 021 426 5526
• Halt Elder Abuse Line: 0800 003 081
• Lifeline Southern Africa: 0861 322 322
• Woman Abuse Line: 0800 150 150