World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
COMMENTARY ON WORLD ELDER ABUSE AWARENESS Day
Abuse of older persons whether physical, psychological, financial, sexual or any other form is a violation of their human rights. Abuse of older people is very common in Ghana and it unfortunately targets the poor, illiterate and weak older people especially women who are sometimes widowed. These abuses are sometimes taken for granted and considered normal but the implications are quite devastating on the victims. We have situations where older persons are camped for days while being taken through some painful rituals to force them to confess to committing one atrocity or the other. At times these people are beaten, tortured and made to go through cruel inhuman treatment. Their properties are destroyed while others are humiliated and disgraced. Examples abound where older people are banished from home to suffer at witch camps. It is regrettable all these are happening despite the human rights provisions in the 1992 Constitution. Chapter five of the Constitution speaks vehemently against these abuses. The fate of a suspected witch or wizard often hangs on the word of a member of the community. Sometimes too society's ignorance of some signs exhibited by women in their menopause stages may result in such women being accused of being possessed by witchcraft. Belief in witchcraft, remains widespread in communities where witch doctors some presenting themselves as men of God wield great power and influence. The issue has to do mainly with lack of enforcement of the law by the appropriate state institutions and lack of adequate access to legal aid by the victims. It is important that members of society are made to appreciate the consequences of their actions on the rights of older people. The security agencies must be proactive in enforcing the appropriate legal provisions against the infringement of the rights of older people.
It is heartwarming that the UN Open Ended Working Groups on Ageing will be meeting in August this year to identify possible gaps in the international framework for protecting and promoting the rights of older people. The group was established by the General Assembly in December 2010 and has done tremendously well in ensuring that the lives of older people are relevant to society. Many older people across Africa are concerned that they are not being adequately represented during discussions which could have a major impact on their lives and the lives of the future older population. It is therefore important that Ghana attends the up-coming Open Ended Working Group meeting in New York because of the positive leadership role it could play during discussions. Ghana was one of the first countries to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a clear demonstration of its belief in a life with dignity for all and respect for human rights. This country has proven its commitment to human rights in the past and cannot renege on its responsibilities to its older people. In case we are not able to send representatives to the Open Ended Working Group Meeting which is scheduled for August 21 to 24, we could at least submit a statement supporting the establishment of International Human Rights Mechanisms through the Bureau of Representatives from the member states which manage the work, that is, Argentina, Luxemborg, Qatar and Albania. It is unfortunate there is no Bureau member from Africa yet. Help Age Ghana, the NGO that supports the work of older persons in the country has a responsibility to assist Government to identify relevant rights issues of older people that can be raised for discussions at the August meeting.
Older people are very valuable to society. Their maternal and paternal roles, are unquestionable. They contribute to the up-keep of the family as well as the communities in which they live. It is however largely the case that both economic and non-economic contributions of older persons are invisible and often not properly rewarded. This is most painful. We need to support moves towards the introduction of new mechanisms by the UN such as a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Older People or regular studies and meetings on ageing. Old age is divine blessing, a reward from God or righteousness. As we mark UN World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, let us remember that older people have a right to live in dignity and security, a society free from exploitation and abuse. It is good to grow old in a place where age is honoured and not abused; for old age is a ladder we shall all climb one day.
BY JUSTICE MINGLE, A JOURNALIST.