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Legislation to Halt Elder Abuse

This generation of older Maltese has accomplish a range of remarkable accomplishments, and contributed to and lived through important socio-economic transformations. It can never be overstated that older persons merit to live in peace and dignity. Irrespective of their socio-economic background or levels of contributions throughout their lives, every older person deserves to experience an optimal quality of life in this very important and critical phase of life.
 
However, cases of suspected and unfeigned elder abuse are increasing. Social workers have gone on record to highlight how too often older citizens, whether living in the community or care homes, experience abuse, exploitation and neglect. Relatives, professionals, and care-givers may misappropriate or embezzle with lifetime savings or precious belongings, labelling vulnerable elders as senile or foolish - a frequent form of psychological abuse - or even not providing with the level of care that they deserve and require.
 
There is no doubt that cases of elder abuse will keep on escalating in the coming decades. At end of 2012, almost one quarter of the total population - or 102,026 persons - were aged 60 years and over. In the foreseeable decades, the population of persons aged 65 years and over is projected to increase to around 111,700 - an increase of 72 per cent when compared to this segment of the population during 2010. As a result, older persons are more likely to live with a disability, a dominant risk factor in experiencing elder abuse.
 
Such a scenario highlights the necessity to support the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day - occurring annually on June 15 - so as to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes and challenges involved. This Day serves as a call-to-action for individuals, organisations, and communities to take a stand against elder abuse and plan for legislation and polices that protect vulnerable elders. 
 
The improvement of local developments in elder abuse legislation was a key priority since I have assumed Office. Unfortunately, the previous administration was wholly ineffectual in responding to the need of protecting vulnerable elders, with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries preferring to specialise in frequenting public seminars and meetings to harp about goals and objectives that, eventually, never materialised.
 
Although public consultations are key to the workings of the present government, no ministry or parliamentary secretariat is content to limit its work to solely engaging and managing in talking shops. The Labour Party has no interest in becoming an expert in discussion as an end in itself, where no decisions or actions are taken, and we are less interested in taking the mantle from the Nationalist Party in the engagement of unproductive, bureaucratic, and self-serving actions.
 
Rather than embracing the configurations of a debating society, this government is resolute in its quest to transform political rhetoric into tangible policies, whereby persons in Malta and Gozo are enabled to reach improved levels of successful ageing. Upon assuming Office, my first priority was to ensure the introduction of (introduce) legislation that halts the increase of elder abuse, and perhaps most importantly, bringing about social justice by permitting more sever sentences to perpetrators.
 
This year will witness the introduction of harsher penalties for crimes perpetrated against older persons. We will introduce new forms of deterrent measures to be incorporated in the Maltese criminal code, specifically dealing with abuse, which so far has been defined in a very broad manner, so as to encapsulate all forms of abuse but with special focus on the maltreatment of older persons. This new legislation includes innovative concepts to ensure maximum protection, even from relatives, so as to safeguard the best interests of the older persons. From a purely academic perspective we mingled civil and criminal concepts (and doctrine) to achieve higher levels of protection in more expedite and effective terms without the necessity to resort to both criminal and civil proceedings, something that is generally highly time consuming, expensive and disheartening.
 
This is only the beginning. In the coming months, the Parliamentary Secretariat for the Rights of Persons with Disability and Active Ageing will be launching policy strategies that facilitate the collection and analyses of data on elder abuse from a range of sources. At present, no single entity compiles data on abuse victims aged 60 and over. At the same time, the government will set up and implement converging pathways for social and health care professionals to follow when identifying older persons who experience some level of harm. The Parliamentary Secretariat will leave no stone unturned until Maltese legislation includes a support and protection act that that shields people from being harmed. This act will be about all those things that keep ‘adults-at-risksafe, including inquiry and advocacy services, as well as protection orders. However, most important is that such an act will safeguard and respect older personsright to choose what to do in life.
 
There is no doubt that the governments efforts to deter elder abuse is only the beginning and that much more needs to be done even with regards to legislation in fact we are in the process of drafting the second batch of amendments. However, the Parliamentary Secretariats success in establishing the much needed legislation augurs well, and I am sure that this government will make a serious difference in enhancing professional and public awareness on elder abuse, serving and advocating for individual victims, and establishing an array of legal remedies that protect older persons from abuse.
 
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