June 5, 2017
The theme of the 2017 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) to be observed at the United Nations Headquarters is “Understand and End Financial Abuse of Older People: A Human Rights Issue.”
Virtually all countries are expected to see substantial growth in the number of older persons between 2015 and 2030, and that growth will be faster in developing regions.1 Because the numbers of older persons are growing, the amount of elder abuse can be expected to grow with it. While the taboo topic of elder abuse has started to gain visibility across the world, it remains one of the least investigated types of violence in national surveys, and one of the least addressed in national action plans.
Recent research findings draw specific attention to financial exploitation and material abuse of older persons as a common and serious problem. Based on available evidence, 5 to 10 per cent of older people globally may experience some kind of financial exploitation. However, such abuse often goes unreported, partly due to shame and embarrassment on the part of the victims or their inability to report it because of cognitive and other impairments, and most prevalence studies are based on self-reported surveys.
Financial exploitation takes many forms. In developed countries, the abuse often encompasses theft, forgery, misuse of property and power of attorney, as well as denying access to funds. The overwhelming majority of financial exploitation in less developed countries includes accusations of witchcraft that are used to justify property grabbing, ejection from homes of and denial of family inheritance to widows. Risk factors for falling victim to financial exploitation range from social isolation and cognitive impairment to emotional or physical dependence on the perpetrator, financial dependence of the abuser on the older person, certain living arrangements, poverty, widowhood and lack of support networks, in addition to ageism and other types of prejudice, discriminatory inheritance systems, as well as weak police and criminal justice systems.