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The outbreak of the pandemic has made the older section of the society seem more vulnerable than the other sections due to their weaker chance of surviving if they were infected by the virus. Their vulnerability and the mandatory social distancing rules make them more prone to various forms of abuse. This has opened up discussions on the socio-economic security and healthcare support provided to senior citizens in the midst of the pandemic, which entails an understanding of the existing law and the need to amend the same.
Abuse against senior citizens in India
According to the World Health Organization, there is an increasing reportage of elder abuse taking place all over the world, especially during the pandemic. This elderly abuse is in the form of harm, distress, economical, psychological and sexual abuse taking place against elderly people. It is important to protect this section of the population due to their vulnerability. These forms of abuse constitute domestic violence and cruelty against them.
Elder abuse continues to remain undefined in India. It happens at the levels of the family, community, and an institution. About 60-70 % of elderly people are victims of abuse. Much of the abuse remains intentional but some are unintentional too. While both men and women are victims of abuse, women are more prone to violence than men. There are several factors that lead to this abuse taking places such as the increase in dependency, deterioration of health, illiteracy, changing demographics, increase in life expectancy and structural change in the family in India. It is also seen that 34% of the victims are unaware of the legal resources as well.
Existing legal protection for senior citizens in India
The former laws for senior citizens proved to be futile as they involved time-consuming and formal legal processes. It was later that the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act (‘Act’) of 2007 were enacted to tackle the high rate of abuse against senior citizens and parents in India and provide them with welfare and maintenance. The Act applies to citizens residing in and outside India. Any Indian at or above the age of 60 is to be considered as a ‘senior citizen’ in India. It seeks to equally protect a ‘male’ and ‘female’ senior citizen. It includes biological, adoptive and step-parents as ‘parents’ under the Act (whether a senior citizen or not). It defines ‘children’ to include grandchildren along with biological children, with both categories meeting the age of majority.
Under the Act, anyone who is unable to maintain himself/.herself from his/her income or property can file an application for maintenance. Section 5 allows the victims/an authorised person/organization to apply for maintenance. ‘Maintenance’ is defined to include food, clothing, residence, medical attendance and treatment. ‘Welfare’ is also inclusive of the above needs along with recreational needs. Section 4 mandates that the children/relative have to meet the needs to the extent of allowing the elder parents/senior citizens in leading a normal life.
A need for Amendments to the Act
The Act is a commendable step to protect elderly citizens. However, to ensure complete security to elderly citizens, it requires certain immediate amendments. This would entail an increase in the provision of healthcare and social and economic security, especially due to the vulnerability of this section during the pandemic.
Firstly, the term ‘abuse’ has to be defined and must be inclusive of its various forms. There must be an expansion of the term ‘parents’ to include grandparents and parents-in-law. Similarly, the term ‘children’ and ‘relatives’ must be expanded. It is observed that in order to protect the senior citizens, there is a need to understand the nature of their needs which consist of needing traditional family support for their sustenance and financial needs. This ‘Maintenance’, thus, needs to be widened to assure complete healthcare, safety, and security to senior citizens, as per the nature of the need. Further, the maintenance amount must not be limited to an upper limit of Rs. 10,000. It must take into account the earnings of the children and the needs of the elderly citizen.
In a study conducted in 2014, it was seen that victims of abuse usually approach their friends rather than the formal legal system. The Act in its present form involves non-state actors in the redressal process. This brings a sense of amicableness and flexibility in the system by making it informal. However, introducing a community approach would be useful as well. We could create room for mediation by young, trained professionals/NGOs. This could prove to be more amicable and useful in reconciling the parties. We must involve the youth in the role of caregivers to provide local care services at subsidized rates. Awareness can be spread through the setting up of camps and the creation of peer groups. There must be a focus on formulating protective guidelines which include the prevention of social isolation, bodily injury, and mental and physical impairment. Setting up helplines and geriatric clinics would also support in protecting the elderly citizens.
The Act is in line with ensuring the right to life and dignity of the elderly citizens. It promotes inclusion, equality, and non-discrimination on the basis of the sex of the senior citizen. It has also created a therapeutic and cathartic space for the victim. The immediate inclusion of these key amendments would ensure the effective realization of the legislation’s socio-economic and healthcare objectives and increase protection of elderly citizens in India during the pandemic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tasha Bluewin Joseph is an incoming Associate at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. She graduated from Jindal Global Law School.
In Content Picture Credit: The Financial Express
Kindly note that the views and opinions expressed are of the author and not of the Indian Journal of Law and Public Policy.