UN expert urges Mauritius to prioritize legal protections against abuse of older persons

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Independent Expert on the enjoyment of All Human Rights by older persons Rosa Kornfeld-Matte. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

8 May 2015 – While Efforts have been made in Mauritius to ensure that older persons fully enjoy their rights, the United Nations rights expert on the issue stressed today that “law is not enough” and encouraged the authorities to make detection of elder abuse and law enforcement a priority.

“The authorities’ firm commitment to putting older people first needs to translate into deeds,” said Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, at the end of her first official visit to the country.

“Their situation cannot be seen in isolation as it is reflective of existing patterns of discrimination, marginalization and social exclusion that needed to be addressed,” she said.

Ms. Kornfeld-Matte noted that Mauritius has a remarkable legal, institutional and policy framework on older persons and has taken a number of commendable measures in recent years to safeguard older persons.

For example, “the 2001 national policy on the elderly was an important step to comprehensively address the welfare dimension of the ageing phenomenon,” she said, adding that she trusts “that the Government will deploy all necessary efforts to implement the new national policy on ageing (2014-2024).”

Moreover, Ms. Kornfeld-Matte was pleased to learn that as a developing country, the Government is spending about half of its budget on social services including free health and education, which also benefit older persons.

“Financial autonomy is key to ageing with dignity,” said the UN right expert, who also hailed the country’s non-contributory universal pension for all people 60 years and older, operating since 1976.

“The pension system also has an important gender dimension,” stressed Ms. Kornfeld-Matte, explaining that “since it is younger women in households who are expected to care for the elderly and reach retirement age without having been active in the formal work force, forcing them otherwise into poverty in later years.”

She said that safeguards needs to be put in place against older persons’ financial exploitation as this makes them an important income source.

However, “the continued prevalence of elder abuse indicates that normative action is not enough,” Ms. Kornfeld-Matte warned, stressing that “further measures are required to detect, report and prevent all forms of abuse of older persons in institutional care and in family settings.”

“I urge the Government to put in place, as a matter of priority, a monitoring mechanism and inspection framework,” the independent expert emphasized.

She also suggested that inspections should be conducted on a regular basis, including announced and unannounced visits to ensure the protection of older persons from sexual and physical abuse and neglect.

“There is also an urgent need for affordable, accessible and barrier-free housing for older persons in order to reduce their levels of dependency and provide alternative housing options,” Ms. Kornfeld-Matte added.

The UN rights expert lauded the Government’s acknowledgment of the important role older persons have played in nation-building, rather than portraying them as physically, mentally and socio-economically vulnerable.

Emphases of the intergenerational dialogue, she said, are good examples in challenges faced by multi-lingual, multicultural and multi-ethnic societies.

“Their knowledge, experience and wisdom should be taken into account when designing disaster risk reduction strategies,” said Ms. Kornfeld-Matte, as climate change is exacerbating the inherent environmental vulnerabilities of a small island developing state like Mauritius and has a disproportionate effect on older persons.

Mauritius is the first African country to have developed a national policy on ageing. It has a population of about 1.2 million and around 13 per cent are age 60 and over. The figure is projected to rise to 30 per cent by 2050.

Traditional care-providing structures, such as the extended family, are undergoing radical changes in Mauritius as the number of dependent elderly increases. This severely affects care-providing mechanisms, the housing situation as well as the health care system.

The Elderly Persons Act 2005 is a crucial step to provide adequate protection to older persons against ill-treatment, be it physical, verbal, emotional harassment or financial prejudice, as well as breaking the taboo of elder abuse in the country.

Source: United Nations

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