By Kirt Conrad Walrond
Many were justifiably incensed by the recent images of our senior citizens standing in long lines or sitting in the pouring rain as they waited patiently for their vaccines.
In her observance of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2021, Her Excellency President Paula-Mae Weekes also commented on this as she chided “the recent, appalling display of disregard for our senior citizens which left them standing, and when they could no longer stand, sitting on the ground unshielded from the elements lining the nation’s roads”.
Her Excellency called on us to make care and respect for the elderly a priority and lamented the fact that some of our elders are mistreated and abused by relatives within their own households, echoing similar sentiments made in June of 2020 when she warned that “elder abuse is a rampant, yet severely underreported social ill, affecting an estimated one in six persons aged 60 years and older around the globe”.
In a report published by the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian on June 16, 2021, Minister of Social Development and Family Services, Donna Cox, conceded that elderly abuse is a silent epidemic citing 174 cases for the period January 1 to May 31, 2021.
Out of that number, 123 cases came from private households and most of them stemmed from neglect. The Minister also reported a rise in cases of stolen pension cheques, with reports made “every week or every two weeks”. These are atrocious statistics that should never be accepted. One case is too much.
Furthermore, these recent statistics should not in any way be treated as an isolated wave of abuse since history tells us otherwise.
In the Sunday Trinidad & Tobago Guardian’s report of September 14, 2014, Dr Jennifer Rouse (former Director of the Division of Ageing) identified the following prevalent areas of abuse against senior citizens in this land – financial abuse, physical abuse, property abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, and abuse by neglect, with financial abuse topping the list.
According to that report, some of these cases at the time involved instances where unsuspecting elders were swindled out of their hard-earned pension cheques.
The Guardian’s report also mentioned Dr Rouse’s concern about an increase in cases of property abuse against some of our seniors, who, rather than being loved and cherished by their relatives, become victims of greed and selfishness as their own flesh and blood force them to sign over their residential properties. Thereafter, they find themselves confined to the walls of a senior citizens home while their relatives bask in the glory of all their possessions, acquired with their blood, sweat and tears.
Dr Rouse was also cited as having heard a voice recording of a person wishing death on an elderly relative who was perceived to be a “nuisance”.
This was seven years ago, and we know that nothing much has changed. Therefore, I ask you Trinidad and Tobago, is this right? Is this just? Is this humane?
We must never forget that this is the generation who toiled, sacrificed, paved the way, and built the foundations from which we now reap many rewards.
As a nation, we owe our senior citizens a collective apology and we must strive to do better because they deserve better.
I call upon our lawmakers to unite in this righteous cause and pass meaningful legislation that will adequately protect our senior citizens from all forms of abuse. We don’t need it tomorrow, we need it now!
Stop attacking each other from the trenches of your political divide and work together to address this critical issue. We should also refrain from coddling this horrendous problem and tackle it as one people with one heart, united by courage and conviction.
For when all is said and done, how will history judge us? Will we be seen as a nation that stands up for the vulnerable or as one that kicks them down?
Change begins with the first step of introspection and in so doing, we must be mindful of the fact that the sun rises and sets on everyone. One day, we too will enter into those golden years and when we do, we will look to others for love and support.
Change also begins when good people stand up for what is right. I therefore salute all those who already take good care of our elderly and invite them and our young people to come forward on this issue. There’s a place for everyone on the table of this national discussion.
All you have to do is care.
Kirt Conrad Walrond describes himself as an independent social advocate.