The Trials of India’s Aging Population

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The Trials of India’s Aging Population

Crime and abuse against India’s seniors are on the rise. What can be done to protect the elderly?

The Trials of India’s Aging Population

An elderly man uses a stick as he walks past the construction site of a commercial building in Mumbai (October 10, 2011).

Credit: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Population aging is gradually becoming a concern for both developed and developing nations. In India, the elderly depend upon the joint family system for care-giving support. However, factors such as industrialization, migration, and urbanization have disrupted the joint family system and resulted in the growth of nuclear families. In the process, the elderly are encountering both economic and emotional problems.

According to the 2011 census data, India is home to 104 million elderly people (aged 60 years and above), 53 million women and 51 million men. Most (71 percent) of the elderly reside in rural areas; 29 percent reside in urban areas. The 2011 census also revealed that 15 million elderly people live alone and three-fourths of them are women. Demographically, the proportion of India’s elderly population has increased from 5.6 percent in 1961 to 8.6 percent in 2011  according to the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation.

These statistics are indicative of the fact that the concerns of the elderly need to be addressed with priority. Amidst other concerns, the security of India’s older population requires immediate attention. Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) over the years have highlighted rising crime against the elderly. Statistics from the NCRB’s recently released 2015 report demonstrate the fact that elderly lack security provisions in India.

Understanding NCRB Statistics

On August 30, 2016, the 63rd edition of “Crime in India,” an annual publication of National Crime Records Bureau, was published. Data from the NCRB report demonstrated that crimes against senior citizens rose by 10 percent in 2015 as compared to the previous year. A total of 20,532 cases of crimes committed against senior citizens were reported in 2015 as compared to 18,714 in 2014. Though the report has a detailed representation of crimes committed recorded against the elderly, only the States and Union Territories with highest rates of crime have been tabulated below:

Table 1: Crimes Committed against Senior Citizens in 2015

Sr No State/Union Territory Murder Cheating Robbery Grievous Hurt Other IPC Crimes Rate of Crime (per 100,00)
1 Andhra Pradesh 56 197 32 44 2495 51.6
2 Andaman & Nicobar Islands 3 0 0 2 12 47.2
3 Chandigarh 1 0 1 1 26 38.8
4 Chhattisgarh 63 46 9 27 1077 53.7
5 Delhi 14 123 145 9 1248 108.8
6 Goa 2 5 1 6 59 36.1
7 Madhya Pradesh 106 59 85 150 3456 60.5
8 Maharashtra 167 627 718 369 4561 41.1
9 Tamil Nadu 162 192 88 11 1947 25.9
10 Telangana 53 240 21 7 1519 44.1

Source: NCRB Report 2015

As Table 1 indicates, Delhi has the highest rate of crime followed by Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.  The case of Delhi is particularly alarming because even with the establishment of a Senior Citizens Security Cell at the Police Headquarters in 2004 crimes against the elderly continue to increase. The major reasons for the rising criminal offences against the elderly are vulnerability and lack of protection. As individuals grow older, they begin depending on their children or other family members to fulfill their needs as their physical abilities and health decline. The breaking up of the joint family system has resulted in adult children moving to new cities as their workplaces demand; in the process they are not able to fulfill filial obligations towards their older parents. Data indicates that 56 percent of older adults in India live only with their spouse rather than with children. Due to lack of support and security, older adults become susceptible to criminal activities.

Physical Abuse and the Elderly in India

In the context of criminal activities it is important to note that the elderly are often victims of physical abuse by both family members and outsiders. Interestingly even though the NCRB report provides a detailed list of crimes committed against elderly, it does not mention incidences of physical abuse experienced by older adults in India. The lack of detailed records for such cases of abuse could be attributed to a lack of reporting.

A recent study conducted by the Agewell Foundation revealed that two-thirds of the elderly are neglected by their family members and one-third have suffered physical and verbal abuse. Around 65 percent of the elderly indicated that they faced neglect in their old age and over half (54.1 percent) mentioned that they suffered abuse within their families. Every fourth senior citizen admitted that they are being exploited by their family members.

Additionally, the study also highlighted that 89.7 percent and 96.4 percent of the elderly faced abuse for financial and emotional reasons respectively. Lack of respect and property-related matters are considered to be the major reasons for elderly abuse by family members in India. Another important reason older adults in India are at high risk of abuse is because 73 percent of the elderly in India are illiterate. Studies have indicated that elderly with at least eight years of education are more likely to avoid abuse.

Statistics from the NCRB report and the Agewell Foundation study indicate that older adults in India face exploitation and mistreatment both from within and outside the family as well. In this context it is important to highlight the role of the State and understand the existing policies for older adults in India.

Policies for the Elderly in India

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has implemented a Central Sector Scheme of Integrated Program for Older Persons (IPOP) since 1992. The objective of this scheme was to improve the quality of life of senior citizens by providing basic amenities such as shelter, food, medical care, and entertainment opportunities with the help of the government, non-governmental organizations, (NGOs), Panchayati Raj institutions, and local bodies. This scheme, revised in 2008, also provides assistance for the maintenance of nursing homes, dementia centers, older widow care centers, and respite care homes.

In addition to the IPOP Scheme, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act was enacted in December 2007 to ensure the well-being of older adults. This Act makes it mandatory for children and relatives to provide care facilities to their older parents or relatives after they reach the age of 60. This Act also gives older adults the right to revoke their property transfers in case of negligence. Additionally the Act also ensures that older adults receive protection of life and medical facilities from their family members. In cases of abuse the Act provides the older adult the right to avail themselves of penal provisions (although, as noted above, in reality such incidents are seldom reported).

International Perspective

The Indian State has considerable provisions for the elderly; however, the incidences of physical abuse and the growing crime rate highlight the fact that there is a clear lack of implementation. In fact it could be suggested that there is a lack of awareness among older adults regarding the existence of these policies. As per Indian tradition, older adults usually depend on their sons to fulfill their economic and emotional needs. Hence older adults in India are ill-prepared to live alone or make financial arrangements for themselves.

In contrast, other countries with aging populations have implemented policies to make older adults self-sufficient and independent. For instance, in 2000 Japan implemented a mandatory social long-term care insurance (LTCI) system. This system made institutional and home- and community-based services such home-help and rehabilitation services available to every individual aged 65 years or above who is certified to have physical or mental health needs irrespective of income levels and family support.

Similarly China, which long relied on the tradition of filial piety (adult children providing care to older parents), is shifting to long-term care goals by establishing alternative care giving arrangements. Through their Elder Care Home Without Walls Program the government of China has made trained service providers available for the elderly. These service providers are paid by the government and the elderly can use their services through phone calls to local government. Singapore, which faces a huge demographic shift and the rise of aging population, made it mandatory for all employees to contribute 18.5 percent of their income to the Singapore’s social security fund, known as the Central Provident Fund. Post-retirement individuals can avail themselves of the benefits of this fund.

In Europe, policies are designed to keep older adults active and engaged in their later life. For instance Nordic countries provide training and life-long learning to their older workers to keep them employed. Other European countries such as France, Germany, Poland, and Austria provide pension schemes and gradual retirement or retraining.

Drawing from the examples of these countries, the main aim is to make older adults self-sufficient and aid them in the aging process. In India, on the other hand, it seems that older adults do not avail themselves of the benefits of existing policies and are increasingly victims of abuse and crime.

Recently the government of India announced the launch of a strict National Policy for the Elderly to ensure protection of their rights. In addition to preventing crime, however, it is important for the government to adapt to the current needs of the elderly and formulate a national policy that will enable older adults to become independent and self-sufficient.

Jagriti Gangopadhyay is a Senior Research Associate at Ragiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies.