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Attorney wants more laws for elder abuse


Attorney-at-law Essence Munroe-Douglas is calling on legislators to create laws that specifically target elder abuse.

Munroe-Douglas was speaking at a virtual panel discussion for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, hosted by the National Council for Senior Citizens, last week.

Despite noting that there is no established legislation which specifically targets elder abuse or the protection of the elderly in Jamaica, Munroe-Douglas confirmed that the constitution does protect their general human rights.

“Human rights are enshrined in our constitution; in particular, a chapter of the constitution. It mentions that it protects the rights to life, liberty, right to enjoyment of property,and certainly the protection from inhumane treatment,” Munroe-Douglas stated.

Adding that elder abuse tends to occur where seniors live which is why it is difficult for them to speak up, Munroe-Douglas said “oftentimes [the abuse] is by family members, their grandchildren, a spouse, hence victims are afraid or ashamed to talk or remember the evil that is perpetrated to them”.

The attorney further stated that in order to charge abusers, they currently have to refer to laws from at least four different acts.

“The Domestic Violence Act, Offence Against the Persons Act, Sexual Offences Act, and of course the Maintenance Act – there’s no specific legislation so we have to incorporate them into the various professions of these acts,” she said, adding that in section three of the Domestic Violence Act, the court may on application grant a protection for an occupation order, and this order is very important especially if one is being abused.

“If the protection order is breached when the court grants it, the respondent commits an offence, and is liable on conviction for a fine not exceeding $10,000, or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both. This is the reason we are asking for an amendment to the act or an act that speaks specifically to our elders, because that fine is not a deterrent,” Munroe-Douglas explained.

“I want our elders to know you have the right to enjoy your property that you have acquired during your lifetime, and in your twilight years, you have the right to enjoy the life that you have. Not because you are now old, means that you should give up all these rights and just disappear,” she continued.

Detective Glenford Thompson, who was also present at the event, pleaded with abusers to stop the abuse of the elderly. He also encouraged the victims.

“I will start off first with my message to the abuser to say I am begging, I’m pleading, I am instructing and I’m warning to stop the abuse of our elderly. It is low, degrading, demeaning, nasty. As it relates to our elderlies, I would like to encourage you to hold your head high and be proud because forums like these are an indication of our love for you, our appreciation for you and how much we treasure all the contributions you have put in the development of us as people in our society and ultimately Jamaica,” the detective said.

Minister of state in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security Zavia Mayne explained that older persons account for 12.6 per cent of Jamaica’s population.

Adding that the increase in the elderly population, among other global developments, will present an increase to the number of vulnerable and at-risk seniors, Mayne also said, “The UN (United Nations) Department of Economics and Social Affairs declares that violence, abuse and neglect of older persons are the most hidden and unreported violations of human rights. This presents a challenge to prevent, respond and mitigate elder abuse.”

He noted that World Elder Abuse Awareness Day observed annually on June 15, aims to provide an opportunity to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of the older persons, by raising an awareness of the cultural, economic, social and demographic issues relating to elder abuse and neglect.

While encouraging Jamaicans to take care of and protect the elderly, Mayne stated that the novel coronavirus pandemic has shed light on reports of abuse and neglect of seniors in their communities and homes.

“The Ministry of Labour and Social Security, through the National Council for Senior Citizen, continues to respond to the needs of various older persons, and to work with various stakeholders to ensure a good quality of life for older Jamaicans,” Mayne said.

In addition, lecturer at Mona Aging and Wellness Centre at The University of the West Indies Dr Douladel Willie-Tyndale verified that failure of the caregiver to meet the needs of a dependent senior was a form of elder abuse.

“There are different forms of abuse. There are five main forms that have been recognised, there is physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual and financial abuse and there is also neglect. It is globally recognised as an important public health and social problem. It’s a public health issue because it threatens the health and well-being of older persons, and it’s a social problem because it threatens to pull apart our social moral fabric,” stated Willie-Tyndale, as she explained that studies suggest that only one out of every 24 cases of elder abuse is actually reported.

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