Unlike “child”, the word “elder” has not been defined in any of the statutes and has not been taken up into any convention or protocol. The term elder, in common understanding refers to a person who is older than your age be it your father, mother, brother, sister or guardian. According to the “Merriam Webster Dictionary” the expression elder means, “a person who is older and having authority due to age or experience in any field.” In a developing country like India, a report of the World Health Organization (WHO) states that there are 77 million old people which may rise up to 177 million in the coming 25 years because the life expectancy rate has risen to 20 years from the year 1951.
The eldest member of the family is even referred to as a ‘Karta’ in a Hindu Undivided Family which provides that he has a role to be the protector of the younger ones by taking care of them in making them a good human being. However, darkest side in humans is that when these elder people become old and start depending on their younger ones, then they are abused by later. A lot of cases in developing countries, particularly in India have been notified but have not grabbed attention because of the lacunas in law relating to any provision for elder abuse.
The elder abuse is of the following types:
1. Physical Abuse where the old people are hit, punched, slapped, burned, kicked, restrained, and done other inhuman activities.
2. Psychological or Emotional Abuse relates to humiliate an old person so as to cause mental trauma to him by identifying the most important thing of an individual and causing disturbance to him by misusing such thing.
3. Sexual Abuse refers to any activity that forces an old person to take part in any kind of sexual activity without his or her consent. This is the most prevailing abuse in our society now days.
4. Financial abuse is the worst form of elder abuse where an old person is deprived of any kind of financial aid from his family and given misappropriated account of the financial resources to that person in order to control him and to cause other kind of abuses.
5. Neglect is also a bad form of elder abuse where an elder is deprived of any kind of facilities like medical, travelling, food, clothing, comfort, heat and other essential services. This can be treated as neglect where an elder person is kept at risk and unattended.
6. Abandonment, where a dependent person is deserted by the family members by disowning; abandoning or by leaving them at such places where they are left unattended for endangering their life.
7. Self-Neglect means when a person himself neglects by not taking care of his own health so as to cause health problems, safety concerns and also resulting in death. Sometimes the older people themselves deny such comforts that are being given to them but the caregivers must consider that their decisions shall only be honored when they are of a sound mind. Sometimes due to financial crisis or poverty these are done by the adults.
The major signs of identifying these abuses are signs on the body like bruises, scars, sprains, broken bones, change in their behavior, account withdrawals at regular intervals, money missing from home, non-payment of the bills, malnutrition, dehydration, poor hygiene, signs on the body especially near the breasts or the genital areas, bleedings etc.
Indian parliament enacted a law for mitigating these lacunae and passed an Act in 2007 known as the “Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 (MWPSC act)” which received the assent of the President on December 29, 2007 and was published in the Gazette of India on 31st December, 2007. In 2019, and amendment was also brought in by Mr. Thawarchand Gehlot, then Minister of Social Justice in the Lok Sabha. However, absence of its pan-India implementation is a serious problem because only some states have adopted this legislation while some of the states are still trying to implement it. Further, low reporting of the cases under the MWPSC acts also a serious concern. The first case under this legislation was filed in November, 2011 by Siluvai of the age of 84 years and his wife Arulammal of 80 years of age of the state of Tuticorin against their son and daughter-in-law for neglecting them and also taking away their two homes. The act provides inclusion of grand children also in the definition of children by only excluding minors and also aims to provide maintenance to old people and also advises State Governments to constitute maintenance Tribunals to decide the cases on maintenance by giving necessary directions also as paying sum of Rs. 10,000 to parents and senior citizens by their children or relatives and also invite appeals from orders. It also imposes imprisonment of up to 3 months with fine of Rs. 5,000 or both if the parents are abandoned with doubling of punishment if disobedience persists. It also mandates for the construction of Health Care Homes, Care Homes and other similar amenities.
Notwithstanding, these legal safeguards, the basic question that comes to our mind is that whether we are still able to fight such an evil through the enactment of this legislation. The answer is a big “NO” because we do not educate our society about this evil and most of the cases has not been reported because the elder people do not want their young ones to suffer and this is the only weakness that has been misused by later. Our society has gone down to such an extent that now it seems to be living a life of an animal. Humans were considered superior because of the fact that they had the ability to think and then react but today we only use our brains to keep ourselves only in a better position irrespective of the fact that what costs we are going to pay for that. Therefore, it is my humble request to the readers of this article to sensitize others so that the old people are not deprived of their rights and they can peacefully spend their life with comfort along their family because it is the most important thing in one’s life. After all, everyone does all the hard work and labor for making their family happy and fulfilled.