RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Reports of violence against the elderly in 2019 represented 30% of the total number of reports of human rights violations received by Dial 100, provided by the federal government, totaling around 48,500 records. In 2018, the service received 37,400 reports of crimes against the elderly.
By the end of last year, with the social isolation imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the number observed in 2019 increased by 53% to 77.180 reports. In the first half of 2021, Dial 100 has now registered over 33,600 cases of human rights violations against the elderly in Brazil.
Although the Elderly Statute, established by Law 10.741/2003, guarantees rights to people aged 60 or over, it is often reported that basic rights to life, health, food, education, culture, sport, leisure, work, citizenship, freedom, dignity, family and community life are either violated or unfulfilled.
The Statute describes violence against seniors as any action or omission, perpetrated in a public or private location, that leads to their death, harm, or physical or psychological suffering.
However, many elderly do not report violence they have experienced, out of fear or shame, as in most cases, abuse has been occurring for a long time and in their own homes. Consequently, the number of reports made through Dial 100 does not entirely reflect the truth – it is underreported.
Naira Dutra Lemos, president of the Gerontology Specialization Titles Chamber, from the Brazilian Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology (SBGG) and professor of the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) does not regard the World Day of Awareness of Violence against the Elderly, which takes place today, June 15, as a date for celebration, but rather as an alert. “I think it is a day for us to reflect about the issue, to give visibility to the issue. A day for us to stop, reflect and deeply think about it,” Naira said.
The SBGG launched the ‘Junho Violeta’ (Violet June) campaign and shared messages to social assistance services, health care services, and universities, encouraging students, professionals, and the elderly to wear the violet ribbon. “This campaign must belong to everyone.” Naira also argued that the elderly should be treated with respect by younger people, who should realize that they will not be 20 forever and will age the same way. Naira Lemos says June 15 is also important to show the population that the pandemic has exposed a large number of cases of violence against the elderly and women within the home.
A measure to protect the elderly is Recommendation 46, from the National Council of Justice (CNJ), alerting notary and registry services in Brazil to implement preventive measures to curb the perpetration of abuse against the elderly, particularly the vulnerable, during the pandemic. Released on June 22, 2020, the recommendation aimed to prevent patrimonial or financial violence against the elderly in cases of anticipated inheritance, undue use of bank accounts, sale of real estate, illegal taking, misuse or concealment of funds, goods, or assets, and any other cases related to the undue or illegal exploitation of financial and patrimonial assets without the elderly’s due consent.
The Rio de Janeiro Municipal Secretariat for Healthy Aging and Quality of Life (SEMESQV) receives reports on elderly abuse from several bodies, including the Municipal Ombudsman’s Office (1746), the Prosecutor’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Elderly Police Station, the Criminal Court, and other ombudsman’s offices. By visiting the elderly person’s home, the Secretariat confirms if the complaint is justified and issues a technical opinion, explained Sandra Polo, a social worker at the Secretariat’s Social Promotion and Protection Assistance Center.
With the aging of the population, many relatives do not know how to deal with their elders and receive guidance from the municipal agency. “Often, situations are more of a family conflict and become public when they should remain private. When the cases need assistance, the secretariat makes the necessary referrals, working towards ending the abuse or working from a prevention standpoint,” said Sandra.
At the end of the year, the secretariat draws a kind of violence profile. This profile provides professionals with information to determine the main violations and abuses committed against the elderly. The last assessment, conducted in 2019, showed that the most common abuse in the city of Rio de Janeiro was neglect, followed by psychological and moral violence, which involves cursing and preventing the elderly from receiving visits, abandonment, financial abuse, with appropriation of an asset of the elderly, and sometimes even a way of convincing the elderly to sign documents. The majority of abused elderly in 2019 were women (71%), while the main aggressors, by degree of kinship, were children (50%) and in 40% of cases, the elderly resided with the aggressor.
The Secretariat also has an income transfer project for elderly people in situations of social vulnerability. “We grant a benefit to these elderly people in order to help them and their families financially, so that they may remain in their community, maintaining their ties. The goal is to prevent further distress.”
The Secretariat is also focused on recognizing these people’s potential and experience. “Because we know that when you get to an older age, there is a very strong issue of discrimination. With the pandemic, people over 60 left the job market in highest numbers. It was the most affected segment in terms of contracting the disease. They have a higher risk of contamination. So, a prejudice that already exists in relation to people over 60 is exacerbated.”
The Secretariat places these people in hospitals, on guided tours in museums and libraries, working in other city hall teams in the administrative section. Sandra pointed out that, due to the pandemic, this project is currently on hold, waiting for the vaccination of a larger number of people to prevent infection. Social support networks and the issue of coexistence are also addressed by the team, aimed to avert isolation and self-neglect of the elderly.
Today, June 15, the Healthy Aging Secretariat along with the Municipal Transportation Secretariat are promoting an initiative at Saens Peña Square, in Tijuca, Rio’s northern zone, to orient bus drivers and ensure proper urban transportation for the elderly. The initiative will travel through shopping malls in the city’s northern and southern zones with the same purpose. Posters will be put up at the City Hall, while videos will be posted on the city administration’s social networks.
According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), Brazil’s population aging trend persists. In 2019, the elderly totaled 32.9 million people, 6 million more than children up to 9 years of age (26.9 million). That year, the elderly accounted for 15.7% of the population, while children up to 9 accounted for 12.8%.
The first time that the number of elderly surpassed that of children was in 2014: 13.5% of the population were under 9 years of age, while 13.6% were over 60. From then on, the gap has been widening. IBGE estimates that in 2060, one in four Brazilians will be over 65 years old.
Physician Paulo Renzo of the Ilha do Governador’s Regional Emergency Coordination (CER) at the Evandro Freire Municipal Hospital, in Rio de Janeiro, pointed out that isolation caused by the pandemic, in addition to worsening the violations of elderly’s rights, favors the occurrence of domestic accidents and the resulting bone fracture cases in hospitals to this share of the population.
“Confinement, especially in relation to the elderly, has a direct impact on the increase of domestic accidents. The new social isolation conditions, without the proper care to maintain physical and mental health, greatly contributes to this. The elderly no longer perform their activities outside the home and, consequently, lose physical and mental fitness. They become more anxious and depressed,” explained the doctor. Among the most frequent cases reaching the Evandro Freire’s Emergency Room are elderly people with fractures and bruises, generally caused by falls from their own height.
Paulo Renzo said that he has also noticed an increase in cases of loss of appetite, depression, and anxiety in these pandemic times, which weakens them and can lead to accidents. He recalled that care with the environment where the elderly live is very important. Any object that can be a vector for accidents, such as carpets and excessive furniture, should be removed.
Renzo observed that the best way to keep the elderly away from risk situations is by being attentive, while considering all the necessary care in the pandemic. The doctor highlighted the need to take the time to listen to the elderly, because “they have so much wisdom, life stories, and they certainly love to share and relive their memories.”