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Story Publication logo January 26, 2015

Old and Invisible: Stories of Elder Abuse in Peru

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Peru, along with the rest of Latin America, is experiencing one of the fastest demographic shifts in...

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In Peru, the combination of increasing life expectancies and decreasing fertility rates has led to rapid aging of the population. According to the Peru National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI), between 2014 and 2050, the proportion of older adults above the age of 60 is projected to rise from 9.4 percent to 22.8 percent of the national population.

Given the country's rapidly increasing numbers of older adults, experts fear that the number of abused and abandoned older adults will increase over the coming decades.

"Violence, discrimination, and abuse [against older adults] need to be taken more seriously globally," emphasized Silvia Perel-Levin, chair of the United Nations NGO Committee on Aging. "People see old age as not valuable, as if you're not a resource to society anymore. And that is absolutely not true."

According to government statistics, during 2012-2013, a national network of public emergency centers for domestic violence in Peru received 3,828 cases of violence against older adults, representing 4.2 percent of the total reported cases during that time period. More than 80 percent of the 3,828 cases involved females, and 97 percent were of physical or psychological abuse. Only 127 cases were of abandoned elders.

"[All of] these figures should be a lot higher," confirmed Eugenia Fernán-Zegarra Miranda, deputy ombudsman for older adults at the Peru Ombudsman's Office, a public entity that monitors the performance of the government in service provision and rights protection. "There is essentially no data on elder abandonment and, in many cases, we've had to start from scratch."

Meanwhile, research studies, media reports, and anecdotal evidence indicate that the problem is much more widespread than official numbers of reported cases would suggest. A 2002 household survey in Lima and Callao found that one in four older adults had experienced abuse in the previous year and one in ten had experienced systematic abuse (i.e. once or twice per month). The most frequent forms of abuse were insults and verbal aggressions (20.9 percent), followed by humiliation, manipulation and extortions (6.0 percent). Six percent had experienced neglect of basic necessities or abandonment in the previous year.

More recently, a 2013 survey conducted by HelpAge International of older adults living around Lima reported that most respondents had experienced unmet health needs, neglect in social care and degrading, or humiliating treatment because of their age.

Contrary to popular stereotypes of elder abuse taking place in long-term care facilities, most cases of abuse actually take place within the private home, explained Miranda. Unfortunately, older adults are less likely to report cases of abuse due to a number of reasons: They may be illiterate or less aware of their rights and resources; they may be dependent on their abusers; and there is often a complex personal relationship between the victim and the abused. All of these factors lead to an under-reporting of abuse and abandonment.

"There are older adults who are abandoned in their houses, with their own families," said Miranda. "This is a very serious problem. People think that because it takes place within a private family sphere, it's not a matter of the state. It's very invisible."

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